Chiefs out to put focus on retention
How does a team that has won back-to-back Super Rugby titles improve to stay ahead of the pack?
That is the big question exercising the minds of Dave Rennie and his coaching team at the Chiefs, but he is in no doubt there is so much room for improvement they won't have trouble finding an extra gear.
For starters the Chiefs ranked only 15th of 15 teams when it came to possession and possession retention stats last season.
"So we are looking at how to win more ball and how to maintain the ball better," head coach Rennie said.
He admits statistics can be deceiving and said their low possession numbers were a lot to do with their high-risk attacking style.
"With a team like the Highlanders they string a lot of passes together and play a lot of wide, wide stuff but a lot of stuff is done behind the advantage line and we play everything on the advantage line so gain line and lightning quick ball are key stats for us.
"So when you are pushing a lot of passes in those areas you can make mistakes, but we need to be better in that area.
"Obviously if we can play with a bit more pill - and I think we were only down at 46 point something per cent - and if we get up over 50 then with more time in possession we can put more pressure on the opposition."
The Chiefs' lineout slipped a little in 2013 and a lot of work has already been done in that area. With skipper and key lineout controller Craig Clarke gone to Ireland there is an opening for a lock to partner All Black star Brodie Retallick in the second row. Mike Fitzgerald, Ross Filipo and newcomer Matt Symons look likely contenders with backup from tall No 8 Kane Thompson.
Rennie said they were looking at a number of things for improvement and evolution.
"The game changes and the rules change and you've got to adapt to that.
"If we churn out the same game we had last year it probably won't be good enough so we're constantly looking at the game, where we're at and where we need to be better.
"We've picked out a few areas where we think we can be a lot better.
"That's the challenge of trying to be world class. We want to be as good as we can be and can still grow a lot of areas."
With the squad, minus their All Blacks, Maori All Blacks, Japan-based players and the injured, having assembled last Thursday at the Chiefs' Ruakura headquarters, it has been a case of sewing seeds in regard to the structure for 2014 while doing a lot of conditioning with ball in hand.
The Chiefs are heading to the Coromandel Peninsula this week for team building and training, basing themselves in Whitianga, but have to work to get over there under their own steam.