Injuries mount but Chiefs avoiding any excuses

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:04 24/02/2014
Aaron Cruden
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TIME FOR TOUGHNESS: Chiefs captain Aaron Cruden and his teammates won't be using a mounting injury-toll as an excuse leading into next weekend's game with the Highlanders.

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The Chiefs might need to add a new wing to their casualty ward, but don't expect that to alter their focus of trying to lead Super Rugby's New Zealand Conference going into next week's bye.

Friday night's tough-fought 18-10 season-opening victory over arch conference rivals the Crusaders in Christchurch added five more names to the injured list, while removing the only remaining specialist No7 in the squad, Tevita Koloamatangi, from the match twice with chronic cramp.

Leading halfbacks Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Augustine Pulu are both in doubt.

But head coach Dave Rennie says that, just like before, they won't be talking about that as a team but will be planning to take on the Highlanders in their first home game in Hamilton this Saturday night with who is available, knowing there is a chance to go into the bye as the only unbeaten NZ team.

"Even though we've got these injuries we don't tend to talk about them," Rennie said.

Crucially they just focused on who they had available for the next game.

"When you're bringing young guys in you don't want to be making excuses in the media about who's missing because that just gives them an out.

"We talk positively about it because we believe those guys will lift and the other senior players will help bring them through and the guys chosen will do the job.

"Ultimately they end up going in with confidence because you're talking about them confidently, you believe in them and you know you've got a good enough side to do the job," he said.

All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick and tighthead prop Ben Afeaki suffered the most spectacular injuries on Friday night with their nasty head clash that left both covered in blood and groggy and saw both fail the sideline concussion tests.

"We've got to assess where Brodie and Ben are at so we'll go through the concussion protocols with them, but they're not too bad by the sounds of things.

"Brodie's concern is more around his neck, but we won't take any risks with these guys, so they need to go through the process and we'll know a bit better over the next couple of days where they're at."

Fullback Mils Muliaina's return to the Chiefs has not lasted long after he reinjured the elbow he had surgery on last year in Japan and requires a further operation that will put him out for a lengthy period.

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No 8 Kane Thompson injured his groin in the first half and he will be reassessed over the next couple of days, while Pulu requires a scan on his knee to assess the severity of his injury. Fellow No 9 Kerr-Barlow, who rolled his ankle in training last Thursday, will have a scan on his foot today to see if there is anything broken.

Koloamatangi should be available again this week with Sam Cane still out with his knee injury and Tanerau Latimer still doubtful as he battles to regain strength in his hand following elbow surgery to repair nerve damage.

His lack of rugby time, as opposed to conditioning, due to pre-season injuries, had got to his body in the end in the form of severe cramping.

Loose forward Liam Squire will be available for selection this week after also coming back from injury and having his first full-on week of rugby training last week.

Hooker Mahonri Schwalger is a chance to be available this week after eye surgery and there is an outside chance Latimer will be passed fit.

"Regardless we'll be able to put a team together and we're confident it will be a pretty competitive side," Rennie said.

The set-piece, particularly the lineout, would again be a focus this week.

"We need more ball and it's not just winning ball but the quality of ball we win - if we can do that we can apply more pressure on the opposition."

The quality of their ball retention and execution of their structures also needed work, but the defence had been outstanding.

"We're a pretty grounded bunch and we know the Highlanders are playing with a lot of spirit as well so they'll be a handful at the weekend.

"I thought they were really combative at the weekend and playing very similar to us in regard to getting a lot of forwards carrying in tight off nine, while they were very good post-tackle, getting guys in and slowing the ball down so we'll really have to be real sharp in that area," Rennie said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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