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Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan praises 'abrasive' new halfback

By Tom Vinicombe
Cortez Ratima. (Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images)

Getting a win in Christchurch against the Crusaders would be enough to satisfy any opposition coach but Clayton McMillan will be feeling extra pleased with how the Chiefs performed on Saturday night, given the men that weren’t available for the clash.

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Regular starting halves Brad Weber and Josh Ioane were both omitted from the matchday squad, as were top performers in recent weeks such as Sione Mafileo, Laghlan McWhannell and All Black Josh Lord.

Some of those absences were forced due to Covid, with players missing early-week training sessions due to being close contacts of other positive cases. It meant the Chiefs were forced to field a new halves combination of Xavier Roe and Bryn Gatland, while 20-year-old Cortez Ratima and 21-year-old Rivez Reihana were named on the bench.

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While Roe – himself just 23 and making only the second start of his Super Rugby career – was excellent in the opening 50 minutes, keeping the Chiefs attack ticking along nicely and finding good distance with his clearing kicks, it was his Waikato teammate Ratima who stole the show late in the piece.

Ratima entered the fray with half an hour left to play and helped marshall the troops as they scored two late tries to steal a victory from the Crusaders at the death. Almost poetically, Ratima actually turned down the opportunity to sign with the Crusaders this year, instead committing to the team he grew up supporting.

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Ratima, in a similar mould to former Waikato, Chiefs and All Blacks halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, possesses power that defies his size which he used to great aplomb in Christchurch, fighting off the advances of Crusaders forwards on a handful of occasions. His sharp pass from the ruck also gave the Chiefs the quick ball they needed to spin it wide and send Shaun Stevenson and Rameka Poihipi over for the late-game tries.

Following the match, McMillan acknowledged that co-captain Weber was free to play in the match after getting the all-clear late in the week but the Chiefs wanted to show faith in the young stand-ins, despite the fact they were playing the table-topping Crusaders in Christchurch – where they’d not managed a win in six years.

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“I think the first part is just [that] he get confidence from knowing we’ve got confidence in him,” McMillan said of the young scrumhalf’s performance. “Like the Crusaders, we were affected by Covid and Brad was somebody that, if we really wanted to, we could have put into our 23 but we wanted to demonstrate to our squad that if you want to be a contender in the competition, you need to have faith in your whole squad and they’re all gonna have to step up at different times.

“We resisted the temptation to [bring Weber in] and Cortez went out there and I thought he controlled that game really well in the last 10 minutes. He’s abrasive, he’s got that ability to carry when nothing else is on and buy ourselves a little bit of time. I thought he was great and he’s another one that will learn massively from the experience.”

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The strong performances from both Roe and Ratima means McMillan has the hard task of finding minutes for both young halfbacks during the season but with at least 11 matches still to play, both are likely to have ample opportunities, especially once the trans-Tasman fixtures kick off later in the season.

Waikato prop George Dyer – who has ostensibly taken the injured Ruben O’Neill’s spot in the squad – also came off the pine to make his debut and competed strongly with Crusaders newbie Abraham Pole while Rivez Reihana, loose forward Tom Florence and utility Rameka Poihipi earned their second, third and fifths caps, respectively.

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Next week, the Chiefs are set to face the Hurricanes in Wellington before playing their first home game of the season – a repeat fixture with the Crusaders – to round out the month.

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M
Mzilikazi 7 hours ago
Swashbuckling Hurricanes and Harlequins show scrum still matters

I always enjoy a good scrum based article. Thanks, Nick. The Hurricanes are looking more and more the team to beat down here in Australasia. They are a very well balanced team. And though there are far fewer scrums in the game these days, destructive power in that area is a serious weapon, especially an attacking scrum within in the red zone. Aumua looked very good as a young first year player, but then seemed to fade. He sure is back now right in the picture for the AB’s. And I would judge that Taukei’aho is in a bit of a slump currently. Watching him at Suncorp a few weeks ago, I thought he was not as dominant in the game as I would have expected. I am going to raise an issue in that scrum at around the 13 min mark. I see a high level of danger there for the TH lifted off the ground. He is trapped between the opposition LH and his own powerful SR. His neck is being put under potentially dangerous pressure. The LH has, in law , no right to use his superior scrummaging skill….getting his head right in on the breastbone of the TH…..to force him up and off the ground. Had the TH popped out of the scrum, head up and free, there is no danger, that is a clear penalty to the dominant scrum. The law is quite clear on this issue: Law 37 Dangerous play and restricted practices in a scrum. C:Intentionally lifting an opponent off their feet or forcing them upwards out of the scrum. Sanction: Penalty. Few ,if any, referees seem to be aware of this law, and/or the dangers of the situation. Matthew Carly, refereeing Clermont v Munster in 2021, penalised the Munster scrum, when LH Wycherly was lifted very high, and in my view very dangerously, by TH Slimani. Lifting was coached in the late ‘60’s/70’s. Both Lions props, Ray McLouglin, and “Mighty Mouse” McLauchlan, were expert and highly successful at this technique. I have seen a photo, which I can’t find online atm, of MM with a NZ TH(not an AB) on his head, MM standing upright as the scrum disintegrates.

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