The Chiefs’ injury roster might be mounting by the week, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be reckless in rushing back players before they’re ready, assistant coach Andrew Strawbridge says.
Injuries from last week’s 22-18 loss to Super Rugby pacesetters the Hurricanes have forced adjustments to the Chiefs’ squad named for Friday’s clash against the Bulls in Rotorua.
Changes to the tight five feature, with Mitchell Graham starting at loosehead prop while Michael Fitzgerald has been bracketed at lock with former Chief and All Black Ross Filipo, who was called into the side earlier this week as cover.
Strawbridge said whichever combination started, he had every confidence the Chiefs’ lineout would be more than a match for the Bulls.
“We know we’re going to have our hands full defending their lineout, particularly their lineout drives, and we’ve come up with some plans around that.”
The confirmed starting lock will be joined in the second row by the newly re-signed Johan Bardoul, Michael Allardice’s ruptured medial cruciate knee ligament from last week ruling him out for the rest of the season.
All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick’s shoulder injury is still keeping him sidelined, and Strawbridge says Matt Symons, concussed in the Chiefs’ loss to the Rebels on May 2, is not yet ready to play.
“Matt cleared all of the protocols but we don’t want to risk him. We’re not 100 per cent convinced that he’s 100 per cent, so we’re going to give him a little bit more time.”
Midfield utility Sonny Bill Williams is another being given plenty of time to recover from a niggly back injury.
“It’s not major, but he’s just not able to perform to the level he needs to, or we need him to, just yet,” Strawbridge said.
The only other change to the run-on side comes with Augustine Pulu starting at halfback in place of Brad Weber.
Strawbridge says Pulu made a big impression when he came on against the Hurricanes last week.
“We think he’s got a physical aspect to his game that suits the opposition we’re playing this week.
“It isn’t just rotation, it’s horses for courses and skillset.”
Chiefs: Tom Marshall, Hosea Gear, Charlie Ngatai, Anton Lienert-Brown, Bryce Heem, Damian McKenzie, Augustine Pulu, Michael Leitch, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Johan Bardoul, Michael Fitzgerald/Ross Filipo, Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Mitchell Graham. Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Siate Tokolahi, Pauliasi Manu, Brian Alainu’uese, Maama Vaipulu, Brad Weber, Andrew Horrell, Tim Nanai-Williams.