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The Chiefs have picked up where they left off with the Super Rugby champions given a flying start to the new season by utility Robbie Robinson.
Robinson was a key performer over the later part of 2013 as the franchise scored back-to-back titles. He proved a dab hand behind the wheel of a kart as the 2014 season was officially launched in Auckland today.
Two representatives from each of the five franchises took to the track and it was Robinson who got the chequered flag in the opening race, coming from behind to sneak past the Hurricanes' Cory Jane.
Blues second-five Francis Saili completed the podium.
It was a lighthearted affair but no-one could deny the competitiveness.
Put these guys in a game of tiddlywinks and there would still be plenty of effort and gamesmanship involved.
It was a good moment for Robinson in what has been a difficult summer as he battles a mysterious hip injury.
He's not too sure when he's going to be involved in rugby action, but the Chiefs won't be lacking for alternatives to the No 15 jersey, especially with former All Blacks fullback Mils Muliaina officially joining the squad this week after completing his club duties in Japan.
Add in Gareth Anscombe, Canterbury import Tom Marshall, livewire Tim Nanai-Williams along with Andrew Horrell and the Chiefs aren't short of options at the back as they seek a three-peat of titles.
"I think the depth we have in our squad is the key," Robinson said. "We have a lot of key guys in key positions and then a lot of guys ready to step into those positions if those guy can't make a game.
"I think that's been the best part of our Chiefs team, everyone is fighting to get a starting spot. It brings the best out of everyone."
Muliaina is likely to be involved in the midfield as the veteran re-enters the frame.
He will need to get up to speed quickly with the pace and physical nature of the Super Rugby scene after being involved in the Japanese competition since helping the All Blacks win the 2011 World Cup.
And Robinson has no doubt the New Zealand conference will be the toughest in the championships that involves 15 teams from here, Australia and South Africa.
"If you look across the board all the New Zealand teams are pretty well balanced," he said.
"I think it's going to be a really tough competition between the New Zealand franchises this year and one that I look forward to first of watching and then being part of."
Robinson said he had "no idea" when he might get back on the paddock.
He sure looked comfortable sitting in a kart though and showed a good eye for the gap, to sneak up from the middle of the pack to snare bragging rights from his mates.
But that couldn't hide his frustration with his rugby plight.
He scored the winning try in the Chiefs' 27-22 win over the Brumbies in last year's final and made the New Zealand Maori team's North American tour but has been struggling during the summer.
"The pre-season has been a bit of a slog for me, trying to find myself not getting bored," he admitted.
"We're not too sure what's going on with it, so it's got to repair itself a bit really.
"I've probably carried a bit of a groin-hip niggle for the last couple of seasons now and missed a good two-thirds of the season last year.
"While it's gone really well for us, it's been quite frustrating because carrying niggles isn't what you want to be doing.
"Hopefully I can get back to 100 [per cent] sooner rather than later."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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