It’s never easy coming up against a pack of All Blacks, but that’s of little consolation to Chiefs prop Aidan Ross following last weekend’s demolition at the hands of the Crusaders.
Ross, a late-game substitute, was a first-hand witness of the destruction caused by the likes of George Bower, Codie Taylor, Michael Alaalatoa and Joe Moody – while Crusaders newbie Fletcher Newell got in on the action too.
Moody, in particular, was causing havoc for the Chiefs’ Sione Mafileo, earning two penalties from the set-piece – while the Chiefs also gave away a pair of free kicks.
All in all, it was a complete massacre – and Ross plans to right those wrongs against the Hurricanes on Saturday.
“Especially the tight five, we took some learnings, some real deep learnings [out of the defeat and lost] a bit of pride last weekend,” Ross said following the Chiefs’ team announcement.
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“We don’t want to feel that hurt again this week because it was pretty embarrassing and disappointing what happened last week so we want to make sure we don’t get that feeling, we want to put those wrongs right.
“It’s never nice going backwards. There’s a couple of areas in the game where it hits your pride, I think, and going backwards at scrum time is one of them.”
The re-introduction of Ross, the man who’s anchored the Chiefs scrum for much of the past three seasons, should help sure up last week’s shakey set-piece – although the challenge won’t be quite so brutal on Saturday.
While the Hurricanes don’t have the forward pack of the Crusaders or even the Blues, they still have some handy operators – including All Blacks prop Tyrel Lomax, who will line up opposite Ross.
That’s of no concern to the 25-year-old, however.
“We know where we went wrong last week and we’ve done a bloody good job working hard to rectify that this week,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going in there to have the mindset of they’ve got the dominant scrum – we’ve also got to back ourselves and back the players that we’ve got in the pack and take that forward.”
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Ross has taken over from Reuben O’Neill, the man who toured Japan and Europe with the All Blacks at the end of 2018 but didn’t get the opportunity to make it onto the park.
O’Neill was sidelined for the entire Super Rugby season in 2019 and finally made his debut for the Chiefs last year, earning two starts and eight appearances off the bench.
O’Neill has missed out on the 23 altogether this week, with uncapped 24-year-old Joe Apikotoa joining the bench, while Ollie Norris will cover the tighthead role in Mafileo’s absence.
“Reuben O’Neill has had a really big pre-season, [we’re] really mindful of that,” said Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan. “[He’s] broken down a couple of times over the last few years and don’t want to keep pushing him so much such that he actually falls over again – [we] can’t afford that luxury.
“Sione Mafileo’s been carrying a niggling back injury for the last couple of weeks. [It’s a] little bit of rotation, but a lot sort of just been determined by where guys are at physically.”
Saturday’s match kicks off at 7:05pm from Sky Stadium in Wellington. The game will be broadcast live on RugbyPass for subscribers in relevant territories who hold a Super Rugby Aotearoa pass.
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