Chiefs head to Super season short on firepower
The Chiefs look set to open their Super Rugby title defence against the Crusaders in Christchurch next week well below strength.
But their mantra that it is not about who they don't have but who they do have that has stood them in good stead on the way to back-to-back championships will again carry them into that match as they rely on their strong depth.
Head coach Dave Rennie said he and the rest of the group were "pretty grumpy" after their 31-20 loss to the Reds in Toowoomba last weekend but pointed out that they were without 19 of their squad against a host team close to full strength.
"So there's a bit of firepower to come back, but we still felt that if we'd played with the right intensity and physicality from the start that we would have been a hell of a lot more competitive," Rennie said.
Things won't be too much different tomorrow night against the Blues at Rotorua International Stadium for the Chiefs' final trial, kicking off at 6pm.
All Blacks Liam Messam and Brodie Retallick will be back for that match, after an extra week off compared to the other All Blacks, along with wider training group new recruit Tevita Koloamatangi (Tasman).
With midfielder Charlie Ngatai out with a minor niggle Rennie conceded they would still be a little thin in the backs for the Blues match.
"Hopefully by the Crusaders week Charlie will be back and hopefully a couple more."
Returnees from Japan Mils Muliaina and Kane Thompson were among those who could be back in the mix for the Crusaders.
Rennie expected to have almost all players back available by the middle of March, after just two competition matches.
"It's a long comp and we're probably better off having injuries now rather than later in the year."
It was just the way things had been this season with the amount of niggles they had, but they were pretty keen to ramp things up this week while mindful of the fact there were a few players missing already.
"Our preparation has been pretty good the last couple of days, we'll have a decent hit-out this afternoon and hopefully put a pretty physical performance on the park come Friday," he said.
Messam is likely to get 40-50 minutes on the field tomorrow night and Rennie said the extra time off had freshened up both him and Retallick.
Messam said his body was sore yesterday after a couple of days back training with the team but he needed to get out in the match against the Blues and get "game ready so a few bangs to the body should help".
The co-captain said the current injuries would test the depth of the Chiefs' team at the start of the season but they had total faith in the entire squad.
"We always want to start strong in this competition and it's always a tough start to play other New Zealand teams but we'll be looking to come out firing in that first round."
Messam acknowledges they will be a targeted team this season after winning two titles but he has put it on his players to display the will and passion to win a third one and he's confident that hunger is there.
"It's why we play in the championship - to win those titles, not make up the numbers.
"It's exciting. I've been here a long time and that's what we've always tried to achieve as a Chiefs franchise. Now we're here we're ready to walk forward towards that kind of pressure, which after two titles is going to be a different sort of pressure."
Meanwhile Benji Marshall will start his third pre-season game in a row in the No10 jersey for the Blues tomorrow night, while current All Blacks Charlie Faumuina and Steven Luatua will both make their first appearances of the pre-season in the run-on XV against the Chiefs and veteran former international Piri Weepu is also ready to test out his knee after off-season surgery.
Blues: Charles Piutau, Frank Halai, George Moala, Francis Saili, Lolagi Visinia, Benji Marshall, Piri Weepu, Peter Saili, Luke Braid (c), Steven Luatua, Tom Donnelly, Liaki Moli, Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons, Sam Prattley. Res: Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Tom McCartney, Angus Ta'avao, William Lloyd, Patrick Tuipulotu, Kane Barrett, Jordan Manihera, Brendon O'Connor, Bryn Hall, Chris Noakes, Simon Hickey, Jackson Willison, Tevita Li, Albert Nikora.