Chiefs get players back, need quicker ball
The Chiefs will welcome back three key players and have another three as outside chances of playing as they return to Super Rugby action on Friday night.
But as they look to a much improving injury situation coming off their first bye and going into their third game against the Stormers at Waikato Stadium, their main focus is getting their hands on more ball to bring their attacking game into play.
Head coach Dave Rennie confirmed yesterday young All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick, tighthead prop Ben Afeaki and first-five/fullback Gareth Anscombe were all back available for selection for the back-to-back champions this week, the former two coming off concussion layoffs and Anscombe returning from double shoulder reconstruction in the off-season.
There were still a couple of question marks over fullback/wing Tom Marshall (thumb/back), Sam Cane (knee) and Augustine Pulu (knee), but Rennie said they were all a chance with Marshall the most likely of the three.
Veteran flanker Tanerau Latimer, who will play his 100th Super Rugby game this Friday, said the Chiefs were nowhere near the level they were last season despite winning both their games and Rennie said it was all about possession and speed of ruck ball.
"We've played without the ball a fair bit and so we've had a look at a lot of our areas but it's our contact area," Rennie said.
"Traditionally in the last couple of years we've got really quick ball and [this year] the ball's been too slow. It's an area we feel we're nowhere near where we have been in the past and it needs to be better.
"We've looked at the quality of our carry and the quality of our contact support in generating that."
They had also concentrated on improving the quality of their lineout ball and continuing improvement of their already impressive defence.
This week the Chiefs step away from their diet of Kiwi opposition to taste their first South African opponent for the season and the impressive return of commanding flanker Schalk Burger won't make it easy for them at the breakdowns.
"From a physicality point of view (the Crusaders, Highlanders and Stormers) are pretty similar. The Stormers are a pretty positive side and while they do kick it a fair bit they're pretty keen to carry and they've got guys who can truck over the gain line and create a bit of pressure.
"We're mindful of the fact if you run straight into them they're going to hurt you so we need to be smarter around that area, but similarly it's about trying to get our structures going and putting our pattern on the park."
Rennie was impressed with the defensive pressure the Stormers put on the Crusaders last weekend despite a 14-13 loss and pointed out they had been the strongest defensive side in the competition for the last couple of years.
"So they're difficult to crack. I think they conceded only 13 tries last year, which is phenomenal," he said.