Chiefs happy to roll with underdog status
The Chiefs should have virtually a full squad to choose from for Saturday night's Super Rugby home semi-final against the Crusaders and are quietly relishing their underdog status.
The Chiefs' forwards all took varying parts in training yesterday, but it is more a reflection of the time of year than a continuing injury toll.
While flanker Sam Cane was a spectator for much of the session as he rested a neck problem, tight forwards Hika Elliott, Brodie Retallick, Ben Tameifuna and Ben Afeaki one by one came to the sideline to ice various ongoing ailments towards the end and afterwards Tanerau Latimer was also icing the calf that copped a boot against the Blues 11 days ago.
But while on the training paddock they were all running relatively freely, including Retallick who until last Friday had his left foot encased in a moonboot after an ankle sprain suffered against the Blues and Afeaki who missed the last couple of matches with a back problem.
"We've got a few niggles but that's common for this time of year," Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said.
"Tim [Nanai-Williams] is a no-go and obviously Richard [Kahui] is out but other than that we'll be pretty close to picking from the rest."
So how do the reigning Super Rugby champions feel about going into a home semi-final as underdogs, the TAB yesterday listing them at $2.45 to the Crusaders' $1.50 in head-to-head betting?
"I think most of the country is writing us off, which is not a bad thing, but we're happy with where we're heading and we've got a pretty happy bunch who are keen to make amends from the last time we played them.
"Obviously we're playing the Crusaders again, they'll come in as favourites but we get to play them at home in front of a big crowd with all our family and friends there and that sort of thing," Rennie said.
While the Chiefs have certainly talked about their disappointing effort against the Crusaders in Christchurch nearly three weeks ago, Rennie said they had not dwelled on it.
"We know we were caught short, especially from an intensity point of view, so we can change that quickly because we can control that.
"We've certainly talked about what's going to be required. We've been here before, we've played the Crusaders quite a bit over the last couple of years and so we know what to expect and we've got to make sure we front."
The Chiefs know the Crusaders have struck a rich vein of form lately that is better than anything they have previously come up with in the last two seasons, but they have their own plans to put pressure back on the visitors.
That will require a jump in intensity but they believe they have already produced that once this season against the Crusaders in Hamilton back in May.
"We played a lot without the ball and had to defend on our line for a long time but we were pretty clinical that night and when we got in the right ends of the field we scored quickly so that's going to be important again and you have to do it for 80 minutes against that sort of side."
Rennie and his coaching team rang the combination changes on the training field at Ruakura yesterday as they kept their players as much as the media and other observers guessing, but he said they had a clear picture of the team they wanted to field while needing to keep all players involved and pushing each other because they never knew when someone might need to be called up.
"We're pretty clear, to be honest, and a lot of things we saw at training today reinforced that thinking.
"We've had a good session today. We're a little bit ahead of where we would have been in a normal week [after having last weekend off], so this is more typical of a Thursday run and we get another crack at it on Thursday."