Good news on injury front for battered Chiefs
While the Chiefs work out how they can avoid having to survive Super Rugby games on 30 per cent possession and territory there was some good injury news for them yesterday.
Former Chiefs captain and All Blacks test centurion Mils Muliaina provided the bulk of that good news, no longer needing another operation on his elbow until the end of the season and now regarded as having a chance to play on Saturday against the Highlanders.
Muliaina, who had surgery on the elbow while playing in Japan last year, looked to have reinjured it against the Crusaders and was thought to need another operation that might put him out for the bulk of the season but it has turned out to be more minor than that.
"There's a little bit of damage in there but it's something that can obviously be operated on post-season," said Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie, who needs any good news he can get on the injury front.
The jury is still out on tight forwards Ben Afeaki and Brodie Retallick after their head clash in the Crusaders match, but the Chiefs are hopeful, while halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow might make it back this week after a scan revealed no fractures in his foot and flanker Tanerau Latimer, hooker Mahonri Schwalger and lock Ross Filipo all have a chance as well.
However, No 8 Kane Thompson (groin) and halfback Augustine Pulu (knee) have both been ruled out for this week.
Whoever finally gets the nod tomorrow for the Highlanders match at Waikato Stadium on Saturday night the Chiefs have the depth to cover all positions, even though they are thin in some areas because of the halfback and openside flanker injuries.
But what is really exercising their minds is how they take some of the pressure off themselves by improving their time in possession and field position to lower the toll big tackle counts take on players' bodies.
"It was amazing character [shown last Friday against the Crusaders] wasn't it," Rennie said.
"We had 31 per cent of the ball and 36 per cent territory and that's frustrating on its own because we missed a lot of opportunities even with that limited ball.
"There were two or three really glaring opportunities that we didn't take - didn't see or didn't complete - and that's a bit frustrating and we gave away far too many soft penalties so we need to be a lot better.
"But the character to play with that much ball and continue to defend was impressive and we've got a few young kids who got to realise what it takes to win those sort of tight games and that will reap benefits later in the season."
There is a real emphasis on their set-piece this week in order to increase that possession count and the man in charge of that, forwards coach Tom Coventry, agreed that they could not continue to survive on such low possession counts and rely so heavily on a hard-worked defence.
"When you're operating on 30 per cent ball you do a lot of tackling and tackling is tiring and you also pick up injuries when you tackle a lot so we want to do it the other way around and score more tries and run around with lungs full of air," Coventry said.
How do they turn that around?
"Winning the ball at the set-piece, looking after it when you're going through your phases, kicking well into space where you're going to put pressure on and get the ball back in the right parts of the field and just using good strategies and good attacking mindsets when you get it.
"Stats don't win you the game. The things that win you the games are the amount of tries you score and amount of conversions and penalties you kick," he said.