Tim Nanai-Williams looks set to start at centre for the Chiefs in this Friday night's Super Rugby opener in Dunedin and not just because he's the last man standing.
Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie has been keen on trying Nanai-Williams in the 13 jersey for a while now, but has needed his class on the wing more up until now.
But with Richard Kahui, Andrew Horrell and Charlie Ngatai all out injured the diminutive (1.82 metres) Nanai-Williams was given his chance in the final trial game in Mangatainoka on Saturday and came up trumps.
With none of the injured players likely to return in time for Friday's match against the Highlanders it seems almost certain he will be the starting centre after a strong display on both attack and defence in midfield in a 25-21 win over the Hurricanes.
"It was a very strong performance. He was really strong defensively and with ball in hand he's so quick and has great footwork," Rennie said yesterday.
"We're anticipating that we won't get back anyone from the injured list so there's a pretty strong chance he'll play there again this week."
But the thought of the now experienced 23-year-old playing centre is not a new one for the Chiefs' coaching team.
"We talked to Tim last year about being a centre, about being a midfielder when we were mixing things around after we lost Richard [Kahui] but in the end he was such a strong candidate on the wing for us and with his ability to play fullback that we left him there," Rennie said.
With the injuries the Chiefs have among those wearing the double-digit numbers there seems a good chance the backline that started against the Hurricanes at Mangatainoka could be the one that runs out at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
"It will be pretty close. We have a huge amount of options to come back in but whether we utilise some of the other guys who didn't start yesterday in a starting role . . . we will have to make that decision over the next day or so."
Aki injured his shoulder late in Saturday's game but Rennie was adamant it was only minor and he should be OK for Friday.
It is a different story in the forwards department where the Chiefs are virtually injury-free and have two complete packs plus spares to pick from.
In fact they put out a completely different pack in each half against the Hurricanes.
"There's a lot of competition for places and we're going through a lot of footage today to give us a really good view of who the guys are who are performing best at the moment and making sure we've got the guys to complement each other's skill sets.
"So we've got a bit of work today before selection.
"There's real competition for places and it's exciting and I can see that over the coming weeks they're going to put us under a lot of pressure to make some tough decisions, but it's a long comp and we've got to keep that in mind as well."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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