Among the various improvements the Chiefs will be seeking against the Sunwolves in their Investec Super Rugby game on Saturday in Hamilton will be a significantly improved effort on defence.
Assistant coach Tabai Matson said that after leaking eight tries in their loss to the Brumbies last week, there had been a lot of attention paid to improving the defence and the physical edge that was part of it.
The Sunwolves had pushed the Waratahs all the way, only going down 30-31 last week. They were strong through the midfield, had a lot of power runners and some astute inside backs. They were a well coached side and it was no surprise they created holes in the Waratahs backline.
“We need to sharpen up if we are going to contain them,” Matson said.
The side would have two of their more experienced hands back in the mix after their recovery from injuries, Sean Wainui and Alex Nankiville.
Wainui, who had suffered a wrist injury, had been one of the side’s most consistent players last year and in the two games to date the Chiefs hadn’t been as physical as they would have liked and one of the things he brought was physicality and work rate and communication.
“It’s really good getting a guy who’s played a number of Super campaigns and a bit of experience in the backfield,” he said.
Nankiville had recovered from an ankle injury and this week had been his first full week back so a game off the bench was the best way to bring him back. He had been one of the best performers during the preseason campaign, Matson said.
“His inclusion into the 23 is a reflection of a pretty good preseason and some leadership characteristics that we are keen on him injecting when he gets onto the field,” he said.
The Sunwolves were extremely capable with a lot more firepower than was represented in their effort last year and with the form they had shown over their last couple of games they were going to be dangerous for the Chiefs.
“We’re anticipating a pretty torrid start. Our goal has to be to bounce back from last week’s performance and play Chiefs rugby and if we do that I’m sure we’ll create enough opportunities to make a game of it,” he said.
Matson said Leger’s earlier play at first five-eighths, in his junior career, meant he had an ability to communicate well, identify spaces and was capable of playing a little of the role of first receiver but he also added another bow to the midfield strengths.
Having played a lot at second five-eighths for the Blues and Counties Manukau gave him a versatility that was very handy for the Chiefs. He also had a left foot which offered variety to that of right-footed Damian McKenzie inside around the exit strategy.
By getting game time he was also getting some due reward for hard work he had put in.
Matson was excited about what Leger would bring to the side and while he had plenty of incentive to show what he was capable of after basically being forced out of the Blues side as a result of their midfield recruitment, that wasn’t such a factor in his mindset because he described as a ‘Trojan professional’.
“He’s a very astute man. I’m not sure if it’s added an edge to what he already does as a pro but if he gets an opportunity to play against the Blues we’ll find out on that night but I think any time you miss out on a team that you may want to be involved with it’s a little bit of motivation to go a little bit harder and further.
“But to fair, the way he is performing is not unexpected,” he said.
The Chiefs have played the Sunwolves just twice in Super rugby and the Chiefs have won both matches to date.
The Chiefs won the first match between the sides in 2017 27-20 before thumping the Sunwolves 61-10 in 2018.
This gives the Chiefs a 100% record against the Sunwolves.
The average score when these sides meet is : Chiefs 44 Sunwolves 15.
Somewhat surprisingly after two matches both sides have yet to win a game and they are placed last and second last in the overall standings.
Average score: Chiefs 44 Sunwolves 15
Last two results
Sat, 24 Mar 2018 Chiefs 61-10 Sunwolves @Tokyo
Sat, 29 Apr 2017 Chiefs 27-20 Sunwolves @Waikato
Chiefs overall record against the Sunwolves
Played 2,Wins 2 , Losses 0, Draws 0
15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Orbyn Leger, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick (captain), 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements : 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Tevita Mafileo, 18 Sefo Kautai, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Ataata Moeakiola
15 Jason Emery, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Shane Gates, 12 Michael Little, 11 Jamie Henry, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 7 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements : 16 Nathan Vella, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Tom Rowe, 20 James Moore, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Phil Burleigh, 23 Rikiya Matsuda
Match Officials and details
Date : Saturday 2 March
Venue : FMG Stadium, Waikato
Kick Off local: 19:35
Referee: Federico Anselmi
Assistant Ref 1: Nick Briant
Assistant Ref 2: Dan Waenga
TMO :Shane McDermott