In­jury hits Chiefs as sea­son starts

Matamata Chronicle - - Sport - By EVAN PEG­DEN

The Chiefs start the Su­per Rugby sea­son in Christchurch on Fri­day with­out their two All Black open­side flankers.

Test player Sam Cane has been ruled out for three to four weeks af­ter in­jur­ing knee lig­a­ments in last Fri­day night’s fi­nal trial win over the Blues in Ro­torua.

Both Cane and head coach Dave Rennie had been op­ti­mistic af­ter the match that the in­jury was not too se­ri­ous but the weekend has re­vealed a dif­fer­ent prog­no­sis.

For­mer All Black Tan­erau La­timer, who has vied strongly with Cane for the Chiefs’ No 7 jersey for the last two years, is still re­cov­er­ing af­ter el­bow surgery to re­pair a nerve prob­lem.

Rennie said that meant wider train­ing group loose for­ward Te­vita Koloa­matangi, from Tas­man, would likely start at open­side flanker on Fri­day.

‘‘Te­vita played 50 min­utes on Fri­day and he’s likely to start,’’ Rennie said.

‘‘Liam [Mes­sam] is an ob­vi­ous op­tion to pro­vide cover there and Nick Cross­well has played six, seven and eight at this level as well. So we’ve got a fair bit of cover among that group but Te­vita is re­ally a seven and has played most of his rugby at seven.

‘‘It’s only been this last year that be­cause of Shane Christie down [in Tas­man] that he’s played six and eight as well.’’

At 1.89m and 105kg, Koloa­matangi will cer­tainly bring size and power to the po­si­tion, and im­pressed last Fri­day night against the Blues with his ball car­ry­ing and de­fence af­ter Cane was in­valided off in the first half.

The Chiefs still have a po­ten­tial in­jury cri­sis in the back­line, par­tic­u­larly in mid­field where sec­ond five-eighths Char­lie Ngatai and Andrew Hor­rell are rac­ing against time to prove their fit­ness af­ter in­juries, with Bundee Aki out un­til April af­ter shoul­der surgery.

‘‘[Ngatai and Hor­rell] have both got to get through a bit of footy so they’ll both have a light train­ing to­mor­row and then we’ll build it up through the rest of the week, and we’re hope­ful that at least one of those guys will be all right.’’

One back who im­pressed on Fri­day was young Tas­man winger James Lowe, al­though he looked the worse for wear af­ter hav­ing stitches near his eye from a head knock that forced him from the field just be­fore the match ended. Lowe, who took the na­tional provin­cial cham­pi­onship by storm last year and got the at­ten­tion of the Chiefs’ coaches, showed he can trans­fer that form to Su­per Rugby with an im­pres­sive dis­play in the fi­nal trial against the Blues.

Lowe, 21, made up for a re­port­edly dis­ap­point­ing per­for­mance against the Reds six days ear­lier in Toowoomba by show­ing his at­tack­ing wares – power, speed, swerve and foot­work – to score one try and set up an­other for big cen­tre Rob­bie Fruean.

‘‘ I think that was a mas­sive im­prove­ment on last week,’’ Rennie said. ‘‘He’d have been pretty dis­ap­pointed with his con­tri­bu­tion last week, but he was re­ally alert . . . pow­er­ful with ball in hand and cre­ated a bit of space for him and oth­ers around him.’’

Lowe said the Chiefs hadn’t been there phys­i­cally against the Reds and that trans­lated into a dis­ap­point­ing per­for­mance but he said they knew they had to step up against the Blues.

‘‘With Liam [Mes­sam] com­ing back in he’s big on the Chiefs mana and he brought a lot of that, a lot of heart and soul to the game and it made a big dif­fer­ence,’’ Lowe said. ‘‘I wasn’t too happy with how I played last week ... the coaches ex­plained what they wanted from me and I just went out there and tried to do that and was happy with my per­for­mance.’’

Hav­ing the right people around him had boosted his con­fi­dence to play at this level.

Out: Chiefs open­side Sam Cane suf­fered a knee in­jury dur­ing a pre-sea­son win over the Blues in Ro­torua last Fri­day.

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