2017 Team Preview: Chiefs

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The Chiefs would love to farewell long-term coach Dave Rennie in style and get back into the winner’s circle for the first time since 2013.

LAST YEAR: COMPETITION: SIXTH PLACE.
NZ CONFERENCE: THIRD PLACE.

Following back-to-back title wins in 2012 and 2013, the Chiefs looked on-track for another finals appearance until they lost 25–9 to eventual champions the Hurricanes in the semi-final.

LUCK OF THE DRAW:
The Chiefs open with three full-blooded New Zealand derbies — they go up against the Highlanders away and the Blues and Hurricanes at home. Two highlights are the rematch of last year’s game against the Crusaders in Fiji on May 19 and the much anticipated clash with the British and Irish Lions on June 20.

CAMPAIGN PREVIEW:
There will be no lack of motivation for the Chiefs players in head coach Dave Rennie’s sixth and final season in charge. “We had a pretty young squad last year with 15 new Chiefs so there was a hell of a lot of learning for all of us,” Rennie says. “I know those boys coming back have a far better idea of the intensity of Super Rugby and their knowledge and skill sets will be a lot better.

So it is pretty exciting from our point of view but every side wants to win it.” Rennie says they also learned a lot about dealing with the travel factor ahead of last year’s semi-final against the Hurricanes. “We have looked at how we dealt with the travel coming back from Africa and whether we got our week right in preparation and whether we tried to do too much. There were little things around our game dealing with the line speed that the Hurricanes brought that day we need to do better.

“But we are incredibly proud of what the group did last year.” Rennie has a typically strong squad for this campaign, but with the added improvement of getting the experienced Liam Messam and Tim Nanai-Williams back in the fold. “It is awesome. It is great to have those guys back and they are both really excited about wearing the Chiefs jersey again. Liam has played 140-odd games and Tim 80-odd, so that sort of experience and their passion for the jersey is really important to us.”

Last season the Chiefs trialled dual captains in Sam Cane and Aaron Cruden. Rennie says it was successful and will be used again this season. “People wonder about co-captains but 40-plus players played for us last year. It is a massive job for one guy so having co-captains they share responsibility, they feed off each other and I think they did a fantastic job.” Rennie coached the Chiefs to a thumping of Wales last year. He says the players are all looking forward to the match with the British and Irish Lions. “A lot of our guys may never play international footy so this is a great opportunity and a chance to measure yourself. The Lions will be incredibly strong and we are all excited to be part of that.”

WHO’S NEW:
Forwards: Kane Hames, Sefo Kautai, Liam Polwart, Mitchell Brown, Lachlan Boshier, Liam Messam. Backs: Finlay Christie, Johnny Fa’auli, Tim Nanai-Williams, Solomon Alaimalo.

WHO’S THROUGH:
Forwards: Pauliasi Manu, Siate Tokolahi, Hiroshi Yamashita, Rhys Marshall, Johan Bardoul, Sam Henwood, Tevita Koloamatangi, Maama Vaipulu. Backs: Augustine Pulu, Kayne Hammington, Andrew Horrell, Seta Tamanivalu, Latu Vaeno, Sam Vaka.

LIKELY FINISH:
The Chiefs have been touted as champions ever since Rennie’s boys won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. They came close last year and the return of double title winners Messam and Nanai-Williams could make the difference in 2017. Potential champions.

CHIEFS SQUAD
Forwards: Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, Mitchell Graham, Kane Hames, Sefo Kautai, Nepo Laulala, Atu Moli, Hika Elliot, Nathan Harris, Liam Polwart, Michael Allardice, Dominic Bird, Brodie Retallick, James Tucker, Mitchell Brown, Lachlan Boshier, Sam Cane, Mitchell Karpik, Michael Leitch, Liam Messam, Tom Sanders, Taleni Seu.
Backs: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Finlay Christie, Brad Weber, Aaron Cruden, Stephen Donald, Damian McKenzie, Johnny Fa’auli, Anton Lienert-Brown, Tim Nanai-Williams, Charlie Ngatai, Solomon Alaimalo, Glen Fisiiahi, James Lowe, Sam McNicol, Toni Pulu, Shaun Stevenson, Chase Tiatia.

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