Hika Elliot is keen to lead from the front as the Chiefs shorthanded forward pack continues to defy expectations in the Super Rugby competition.
They have lost All Blacks props Nepo Laulala and Pauliasi Manu for the season but the hooker has been impressed with how their replacements have stepped up.
“We have copped a lot of criticism for our scrum,” Elliot said.
“But I think in the last couple of weeks we have seen a steady increase in the way our scrum’s performing and our lineout has been going pretty well all year.”
Despite the injury setbacks – flankers Mitchell Karpik and Sam Henwood are also gone for the season – the Chiefs remain in a share of first place with the Crusaders and the Highlanders, having scored a competition high 342 points.
Elliot, who won the last of his four All Blacks Test caps last year against Samoa, also believes the disappointing 26-13 defeat to the Highlanders before last week’s bye was a blessing in disguise.
“We hadn’t been playing our best up until that game so I would rather us take that hit on the chin now than in the play-offs.
“We created enough on attack to put the Highlanders under pressure, but those opportunities we were finishing off seven weeks ago when we were on fire, we were just not able to capitalise on,” the 30-year-old said.
The Chiefs face the Melbourne Rebels in Hamilton on Saturday night and Elliot is taking nothing for granted after the Victorian team upset them 16-15 last season.
“They have always tested us and they have a lot of New Zealand players in their ranks who are playing really well for them so we are going have to be on top of our game.”