Successful Crusaders Investec Super Rugby coach Scott Robertson has been used to making some big calls in his four-year tenure but choosing to start David Havili at first five-eighths against the Chiefs on Saturday in Hamilton is one of the bigger ones.
Havili’s experience in big games was considered important in the selection and it was important to take the chance to have fullback Will Jordan on the field at the same time, Robertson said.
“Dave’s got a great kicking game and he plays well in these big ones,” he said.
“Dave’s skills sets are amazing, he can slot in anywhere. It’s one of his special talents he can play from 10 out to fullback. His kicking game is incredible, he’s got composure and he’s slotted right in there and quite enjoyed it.”
If it had been a final they could have played regular starter and All Black Richie Mo’unga but they were thinking more in the long term and it was a case of looking after Mo’unga.
Havili would be up against one of the players of the moment in former All Black Aaron Cruden. Robertson said Cruden had shown he was all class in his first outing with his experience coming through.
Robertson said George Bridge was looking forward to his first start of the season.
“He’s jumping, he’s always got a bit of energy…probably a little bit extra this week. It’s been a long time since he’s played. With Sevu [Reece] being on the other wing it’s a great combination for us,” he said.
Prop Joe Moody was also having his first start after he was given an extra week off to ensure he was refreshed which had been perfect.
Robertson said the Chiefs were very ‘Gatland-like’. They were resilient as they had shown against the Blues and he instilled a lot of belief in his players and they showed that in Auckland.
Chiefs teams traditionally had the ability to play with spontaneity but they also did the little things well.
“We love playing them. They are great games and it’s going to be great for Super Rugby on Saturday.
“Derbies are always great. It’s the last year of derbies so it’s important we embrace them and enjoy them and, again, they’ve been great battles over the last few years or the last decade so Saturday night should be another one,” he said.
The game could see Robertson notch a 50th win as coach but he said while results were nice he was happier with the way players developed not only in rugby but in also achieving qualifications and developing family lives.
“You get 50 games but you get a lot more out of it when you live day-to-day and connect with a lot of people so they go hand-in-hand,” he said.
Getting players in the All Blacks while also developing depth within the Chiefs squad was the motivation coach Warren Gatland had with his Chiefs side who face the Crusaders in their Investec Super Rugby game in Hamilton on Saturday.
Having a strong bench was clearly an advantage in the modern game, Gatland said. He had experienced its worth during his Welsh tenure. The Springboks had shown that in the World Cup last year while the Chiefs had benefited from it last week in coming from 5-19 down to beat the Blues.
It is an asset that was already being tested as they were hit with propping issues against the Blues.
Prop Nepo Laulala suffered medial ligament damage to his knee in the first quarter and was likely to be out for six weeks. Fellow prop Angus Ta’avao also suffered a knee injury and was also not able to be considered for this week.
That had resulted in Atu Moli shifting to the tighthead in order to avoid scrums having to go to Golden Oldies rules because both tightheads had been injured.
Gatland said Moli’s shift to tighthead at halftime had been important for Moli’s prospects. There was an opportunity for him in the future at loosehead for the All Blacks but it would also be good for his rugby to keep his hand in at tighthead as well.
“It makes him incredibly valuable as a prop not just in monetary terms but in terms of a squad member who can do that and cover both sides,” he said.
“This first three or four rounds is definitely about giving players in the squad an opportunity and there’s still players who haven’t had a run out so we’re still looking at next week going up to Japan with the Sunwolves and the following weekend the Brumbies.
“We’ve got to give players in this squad some game time because there’s no doubt with the attrition we have seen we are going to pick up some injuries,” he said.
Gatland said he felt his job with the Chiefs was to do whatever he could to get players in the All Blacks and that meant not rushing them back from injury or to put them under pressure.
That had been what he said to fullback Damian McKenzie after his groin tightened up after he did some speed work ahead of the Blues game.
“I said, ‘Look, this is week one, what have we got to do in the next two or three months to get you back in the All Blacks and what have we got to do to those other players to get them ready to play in the All Blacks?’
“It’s not burning the candle too early, it’s to time things and make sure they’re going well in April-May and that is the time of the year probably when the All Blacks selectors will start taking a keen interest in hopefully a number of players in our squad,” he said.
Looking to their Saturday challenge, Gatland said the Chiefs respected what the Crusaders had achieved.
“They’ve been a great outfit and it’s about respect. Let’s respect them as a group of players and an organisation for they’ve achieved and, for us, we’ve got to go out and earn that respect.
“They’ve definitely earned it and we’ve got to go out and prove ourselves against what has undoubtedly been the best team in this competition for the last three years.
“They’ve sent the benchmark and it is important for us to go out there and do our own jobs, be accurate. We got better as the game went on last week and hopefully there’s a step up in improvement and accuracy. There’s definitely going to be a pick up in intensity,” he said.
Gatland said there had always been an emphasis on attempting to win their first three games because it would set them up well for the rest of the season and potentially making the quarter finals.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Quinn Tupaea, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Sam Cane (c), 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Ross Geldenhuys, 18 Ollie Norris, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Pita Gus Sowakula, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Kaleb Trask, 23 Alex Nankivell
Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 David Havili, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Whetukamkamo Douglas, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Scott Barrett (c), 3 Oliver Jager, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 George Bower, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Cullen Grace, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Leicester Faingaanuku
Chiefs v Crusaders
@ FMG Stadium
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)