Charlie Ngatai is confident that the Chiefs can cope without star playmaker Aaron Cruden.
The All Blacks five-eighth has been ruled out for at least six months after scans confirmed his worst fears of a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.
Cruden will be out for the rest of the Super Rugby season, and the entire Test season, including the World Cup.
The contenders to replace the 37-Test All Black for the Chiefs are Andrew Horrell, who came on when Cruden limped off midway through the first half of the 26-9 win against the Crusaders in Christchurch, and the McKenzie brothers – Marty and Damian.
While losing Cruden is a blow, Ngatai said: “Nothing changes. We’re confident in our other first-fives that they can play there and do their role. It will be good for them to get that opportunity.”
Cruden told media on Monday that speculation on his possible replacement at this stage was “crystal ball gazing”.
“We’ve got an idea of who we’re going to play this week, so he’ll get a crack. But we’ve got a bit of depth – we’ve got Marty, who steered Taranaki to an ITM Cup trophy, and we’ve got Damian, who’s played there for us before, and Andrew Horrell, who played there last week.
“We can throw Tim Nanai-Williams in there, he plays anywhere, and he’s pretty comfortable at 10. We haven’t got firm ideas that one guy’s going to dominate the position now – we’ll just take it as it comes.”
Ngatai, who is no stranger to spells on the sideline with injury, backed Cruden to come back stronger, whenever that might be.
“Just doing all the right things, you’ll come back quicker,” the midfielder said.
“I guess you’ve got to keep positive. You can’t let yourself down. You know if you do all the work you’re going to get back faster and stronger.”
Ngatai made his return to the Chiefs starting side in Friday’s comprehensive win in Christchurch after ankle and hamstring problems that had kept him out since the round three 40-16 romp against the Crusaders.
He resumed his successful partnership with Sonny Bill Williams in the midfield and is keen for that to continue.
“I just try and feed off what he does,” explained Ngatai.
“He creates holes and opens up chances for me. If we can play alongside each other a bit more this season it would be good for the team.”