Chiefs have size up front but also need smarts
The Chiefs will field their biggest forward pack yet against the Stormers at Waikato Stadium tonight.
And while it is no coincidence that they are doing it as they line up against their first South African opposition of the Super Rugby season, quick ball and discipline are going to be even more important for the unbeaten back-to-back champions.
A massive front row of 130kg Jamie Mackintosh, 106kg Mahonri Schwalger and 137kg Ben Tameifuna is backed by two-metre locks Brodie Retallick (119kg) and Matt Symons (117kg) to provide a massive tight five.
With young Tasman No. 8 Liam Squire bringing his athletic 1.96m, 113kg frame to the loose forward mix there is certainly the size needed to match up to an impressive Stormers pack.
''It's a little bit [about selecting with the Stormers in mind] but we've got some reasonably big forwards and so it's good to get them out on the track,'' Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said.
''Obviously, it's a pretty big front row and with Brodie and Matt in behind them and then you've got Liam Squire who is as big as most locks it's exciting.''
There is obviously a need to improve the Chiefs' lineout but Rennie said a lot of it was around combinations. They had had a pretty good training week and had a plan for tonight's game.
The Chiefs do need to start winning quicker breakdown ball if they are to start launching their attack and scoring bonus-point tries as they did last season.
Rennie said the Stormers were a smart team that had been the best defensive side in the competition for the last couple of years and, with standout flanker Schalk Burger back from his near-death experience following last year's post-surgery infection, would be competitive in the tackle and at ruck time.
''The thing is if you can get fast ball against any team you can put them under pressure so that's our challenge,'' he said.
''There are certainly areas where we think we can challenge them but we're going to have to get all the little things right.''
Former Springbok Burger - a 1.94m, 114kg flanker full of aggression and rare skill - has made a huge difference to the Stormers since his return both in defence and on attack where he can carry strongly in close to the forwards or skilfully out in the backs where last week he opened up a hole for skipper Jean de Villiers to race through.
But last week the Crusaders played into the hands of the outstanding Stormers defence by being too lateral in attack.
''The Crusaders would have looked at their review and they would have seen that there were some real opportunities when they had numbers but they ended up going around the edge a little bit and running into some big men,'' Rennie said.
Last year the Stormers had the best defensive record in the regular season, conceding the least points (292) and easily the least tries (18), compared to the champion Chiefs' 364 and 38.
The Chiefs triumphed by scoring the most points (458) and tries (50), which was well ahead of the Stormers' 346 and 30.
It is a big game for the Chiefs, with flanker Tanerau Latimer celebrating his 100th Super Rugby appearance but Rennie said the emotional value of that would probably be cancelled out by the fact Stormers captain and centre Jean de Villiers was also bringing up the milestone.
Chiefs: Gareth Anscombe, Tim Nanai-Williams, Charlie Ngatai, Tom Marshall, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden (c), Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Liam Squire, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam (vc), Brodie Retallick, Matt Symons, Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Jamie Mackintosh. Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Pauliasi Manu, Josh Hohneck, Michael Fitzgerald, Tevita Koloamatangi, Brad Weber, Robbie Fruean, Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
Stormers: Jaco Taute, Kobus van Wyk, Jean de Villiers (c), Damian de Allende, Gio Aplon, Demetri Catrakilis, Nic Groom, Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger, Deon Fourie, De Kock Steenkamp, Ruan Botha, Brok Harris, Tiaan Liebenberg, Steven Kitshoff. Res: Stephan Coetzee, Oliver Kebble, Frans Malherbe, Siya Kolisi, Nizaam Carr, Louis Schreuder, Peter Grant, Sailosi Tagicakibau.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa).
Kickoff: 7.35 tonight, Waikato Stadium.