Chiefs' All Blacks stay in touch with full squad
The Chiefs have a flexible policy in regard to the return of their All Blacks to training but are not forcing the issue with their international stars.
While the Blues have announced that Charlie Faumuina and Francis Saili have returned to pre-season training ahead of the official return date of January 27, the Chiefs' All Black quintet are quietly working away in the background.
Yesterday loose forward Liam Messam was spotted running through a fitness session on the Chiefs' Ruakura training field and lock Brodie Retallick was lifting weights in their gym, but neither are officially training with the team yet.
Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said the All Blacks had to stay in touch with fitness requirements in order to return to the squad in the best possible shape, but did most of it away from the team environment as they refreshed themselves over their summer break.
"Obviously they had a massive season and didn't finish till the start of December so they get a couple of months away but they need to come back in good nick," Rennie said.
"So they're training right throughout, it's just a different environment and refreshing for them mentally so they're popping in and we're keeping an eye on their progress."
Rennie said there was flexibility in the length of break the All Blacks had despite the contractual requirements of an eight-week layoff.
"Some All Blacks have played very little, maybe on that northern tour, and will potentially come back a bit earlier."
But that was not necessarily the case with Messam, Retallick, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Sam Cane, who had all carried a relatively heavy workload.
"Liam, Brodie and Aaron had massive seasons - played a lot of footy for us and lots for the All Blacks - so they'll keep themselves in good nick through this but keeping them away is a good thing I think.
"We've got eight months to go so it's a big campaign, they're pretty clear on what we're doing and we'll get them up to speed pretty quickly.
"Then there is someone like Sam [Cane] who had a pretty big campaign for us and also played quite a lot of footy for the All Blacks so we just want to make sure when they come back in for us they're really refreshed."
They would still come in and do bits and pieces with the team or at the training facility to wean themselves back into the regimen to make it easier to hit the ground running when they officially returned fulltime.
With the All Blacks not there on a day-to-day basis and others sidelined by injury or surgery rehabilitation several young players have been training with the side to fill the gaps on the training field and get a taste of what is required.
One of those who, incredibly, wasn't snapped up by a Super Rugby franchise after his impressive national provincial championship form for Hawke's Bay, Ihaia West, has been running the cutter at first-five in training for the Chiefs in the absence of Cruden and Gareth Anscombe.
West joined the squad before Christmas on a fill-in basis, is there at least until the end of this month and is hopeful he can impress the coaches sufficiently that he might be called upon should a replacement be needed once the season starts.
"We've been really impressed with him," Rennie said.
West, who gained valuable big-match experience on the Maori All Blacks' tour of North America at the end of last year, said he saw it as an "awesome opportunity".
"I'm learning heaps off the coaches and the older players and while I'm here I'm just looking to make the most of it and try and impress Renns and co.
"If something comes this year that would be great but I'm definitely looking at the 2015 Super season."