Centre stage for Mils Muliana at Chiefs

Racing Fruean and Nanai-Williams to No.15

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:00 01/11/2013
Mils Muliaina, Chiefs
NZPA

BACK IN TITLE TOWN: Mils Muliaina is heading back to Chiefs country.

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Mils Muliaina might have left the Chiefs and New Zealand rugby as one of the best fullbacks those teams ever had, but he will return here next year as a centre.

As with most of the rest of the backs in the squad, the Chiefs will use his versatility, but it looks like Muliaina will vie with Robbie Fruean and Tim Nanai-Williams to start at centre.

And he may even be more of a back-up wing ahead of being a back-up fullback.

Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said Muliaina, 33, now saw himself as a centre, comparing the move to former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga's shift in from the wing.

Samoa-born Muliaina has been playing in Japan for the NTT DoCoMo Red Hurricanes for the last two years, but when he departed the Chiefs at the end of the 2011 season he left as captain and veteran of 104 Super Rugby matches (for both the Blues and Chiefs) and with 100 All Blacks caps.

Most of those games were played at fullback, although he has played test rugby at centre and on the wing.

"Mils probably sees himself more as a centre now rather than a fullback, even though he is still playing quite a bit of fullback over there [in Japan]," Rennie said.

"He's played a fair bit at centre over there but is playing as much 15 as 13. I just think guys get older they want to move in - Tana was the same."

Rennie said the Chiefs also saw Muliaina as a strong wing option - and a player who brought a powerful kicking game and huge experience and leadership to the squad - but felt they already had fullback well covered by Robbie Robinson and Tom Marshall, with back-up from the likes of Gareth Anscombe, Andrew Horrell, Charlie Ngatai, Nanai-Williams and new wing recruit James Lowe, who has played fullback for Tasman.

"Versatility is the key," said Rennie of the many utility players in his squad. "If you look at last season with the injuries we had, we played guys in what a lot of people would assume was out of position.

"Gareth Anscombe at 15, Tim Nanai-Williams at 13 and so on, but it's just the nature of this competition.

"It's long and it's difficult, you're going to get injuries and you need that versatility so what we've got is a group of guys who can play multiple positions and we think that strengthens us.

"They've all got the ability to start so there will be a hell of a lot of competition and some tough decisions to be made."

Meanwhile, the Chiefs have cast their net wide to put together their five-man wider training group that will combine with the 32-man main squad to create a pool of 37 players to choose from during the season.

Livewire halfback Brad Weber, who was recruited after the start of the ITM Cup season by Waikato, obviously impressed sufficiently to grab one of the spots and, with only two halfbacks in the main squad, is bound to get playing opportunities.

Young midfield back Anton Lienert-Brown, who Waikato and the Chiefs recruited straight out of high school in Christchurch at the end of last year but missed the 2013 season due to injury, has also made the cut, as did young Bay of Plenty No 8 and captain Carl Axtens.

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But the other two spots have gone to players outside the Chiefs region - Southland prop Nick Barrett and Tasman loose forward Tevita Koloamatangi.

- Waikato Times

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