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Chiefs rue goalkicker omission

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Chiefs left to rue goalkicker omission in shock opening loss

When Brad Weber lined up to take the Chiefs’ first goal kick attempt of the season on Friday, you knew it was going to be a long night for the Waikato men.

An unheard-of slew of injuries to the Chiefs’ first five stocks had thrown young Orbyn Leger into the starting ten jersey on Friday. A slight ankle injury prevented regular first-five Damian McKenzie from taking the field and the next cabs off the ranks, Tiaan Falcon, Jack Debreczeni and Marty McKenzie were also dealing with their own injury situations.

Leger, who has spent next to no time in the key playmaker role in his limited years of professional rugby, was brought in from outside of the main Chiefs squad during the pre-season and was tasked with guiding the team around the park. It was assumed that Leger would also handle the goal-kicking duties while on the field but evidently, this was one string to his bow that the young Counties product did not possess.

Instead, it was experienced halfback Weber who was entrusted with the challenging task of converting the Chief’s hard-earned penalties and tries into further points.

Weber took to the task like a cat to water. You would struggle to find less natural looking shots at goal than what crowds bore witness to on Friday night – thought admittedly he did convert two attempts and another hit the posts.

His worst attempt of the night came in the 50th minute of the game: from the sideline, Weber galloped towards the tee and unleashed a dismal kick that never threatened to come close to the posts – a kick which Weber chastised himself for as he ran past referee Glen Jackson.

Whilst the rest of Weber’s game was excellent, giving the tee to a player not especially known for their goalkicking was somewhat of a cruel move from Chief’s coach Colin Cooper. Prior to this past weekend’s match, Weber had taken only two shots at goal in his professional career – both for Hawke’s Bay in last year’s Mitre 10 Cup (though it’s worth noting that both these attempts were successful).

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Shaun Stevenson also offered himself up as a sacrifice in the Chiefs’ losing cause with the most misguided kick of the night – taking over from Weber for a long distance shot that was evidently outside the halfback’s range. Stevenson sprayed the ball comically wide and goalkicking duties were returned to Weber until Stephen Donald took the field for the Chiefs in the final quarter.

Of course, little fault lies with Weber and Stevenson – goalkicking is not part of their trade and they were simply stopgaps due to the fact that there were no other regular goalkickers on the field at the time.

Cooper, however, will be left ruing his decision to send out a team without a recognised goalkicker. Many mistakes were made by the Chiefs on the night – some more critical than others – but when you can predict before the game even starts that you’re unlikely to make many kicks on goal unless they’re relatively close to the posts and then you lose by a mere three points… Well, that would cause even the most resolute coaches to question their original decision.

In Cooper’s defence, he wasn’t left with very many options. He’d already lost the already mentioned quartet of players who met the three criteria he probably wanted from someone trusted with the 10 jersey: a strong combination with the other players, the ability to guide the team around the park, and dependable goalkicking.

Leger meets the former two of those requirements – and he performed reasonably well in his role, given he’s a ‘non-kicking first-five’ who has only limited experience at Super Rugby level and none in the 10 jersey. Although not originally selected in the Chiefs squad, Leger played both preseason matches for the Chiefs (however, he spent neither game at first-five) which gave him at least some knowledge of the team’s systems.

Donald, who has now notched up 105 matches for the Chiefs, took the field late in the game after only being called into the squad earlier in the week. Certainly, Donald is an experienced navigator and a competent goalkicker, but his exceptionally late inclusion in the squad (due to Falcon’s season-ending injury) meant that he was never going to start in the match against the Highlanders.

Indeed, coach Cooper was stuck between a rock and a hard place – and the almost farcical number of injuries to the Chiefs’ first-five stocks seriously hindered the Chiefs’ chances of success on Saturday.

Although the Waikato men almost escaped with a win, were it not for a poor last quarter, Cooper will no doubt be tossing around in his head the fact that seven points were left on the field due to errant goalkicking.

With Damian McKenzie likely to return from injury this weekend against the Brumbies, Cooper will hopefully not have any nightmares about missed kicks over the coming days.

Brumbies Scott Sio & Folau Fainga’a ahead of Chiefs clash:

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Chiefs left to rue goalkicker omission in shock opening loss