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Clayton McMillan brings in seven players for potential one-off Chiefs campaign, including promising Waikato halves pairing

By Michael Pulman
Rivez Reihana. (Original photo by Masanori Udagawa/Getty Images)

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The Chiefs will head into 2021 with a lot of names to ponder, and more than enough opportunity for players to step up and grab the brass ring. The Chiefs have never been a team to shy away from blooding new talent, and that trend is set to continue in a big way.

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A total of seven brand new names will feature under Clayton McMillan for his single year stint as head coach, bringing together what he says is enough x-factor for what will be a gruelling campaign across the Super Rugby Aotearoa and Trans-Tasman competitions.

“The squad has a good balance of youth and experience,” said McMillan. “Hard workers and x-factor players will be ably directed by some outstanding leaders and there will be no lack of motivation to succeed”.

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The Breakdown panel discuss this week’s Healthspan Elite Fan’s Voice poll put to RugbyPass fans on whether they were happy with how new players were brought into the squad in 2020.
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The Breakdown panel discuss this week’s Healthspan Elite Fan’s Voice poll put to RugbyPass fans on whether they were happy with how new players were brought into the squad in 2020.

Of course, ending the last campaign 0 and 8 would be enough motivation for any group of players to succeed when the next opportunity to bite the cherry presents itself, and McMillan is clearly under no illusions about the glaring holes that need filling before the start of the next campaign.

Starting in the forwards, the Chiefs’ desperate need for tall timber has been alleviated somewhat with the arrival of Taranaki standout Josh Lord, measured at 2.02m tall will help in the lineouts which were far from perfect last season.

2020 locks Michael Allardice and Tyler Ardron have departed overseas while Brodie Retallick is still on sabbatical in Japan. That means Lord will be in competition with Laghlan McWannel during 2021 pre-season to establish himself as the third lineout option behind Naitoa Ah Kuoi and Tupou Vaai, who both did enough in 2020 to warrant being the first choice at locking combination – although loose forward Mitch Brown may again be tasked with covering the second row.

Up front, widely talented big man Sione Mafileo has been lured south from the Blues and will join the ‘big three’ of Atu Moli, Angus Ta’avao and Aiden Ross. Mafileo was just one piece of an impressive North Harbour pack during the province’s Mitre 10 Cup season.

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The Chiefs’ front row is impressive – arguably the most impressive aspect of their squad, should all be fit and available come round one. Moli, Ta’avao and Ross, who all spent too many weeks on the sidelines with injury during the year, will be complimented well by youngsters Ollie Norris and Reuben O’Neill.

Where it gets even more interesting is in the backline, with two big signings to complement what will once again be a playing group with the rife competition needed for crafting a good side.

Chase Tiatia is back in Chiefs country, and under the stewardship of his provincial coach McMillan, is likely to have the confidence that he’ll be free to play his style of up-tempo game in 2021. With Chiefs assistant coach Roger Randle also having a certain preference for fast footy, the inclusion of Tiatia amongst the firepower that this backline already possesses may be a subtle hint at how the Chiefs will want to play their rugby in 2021.

At times during the ill-fated 0-8 run, it felt like the Chiefs were stuck between ideologies, indecisive about whether to play their typical fast and loose style or take the more subtle Northern Hemisphere-inspired, ten-man rugby approach that was evident in some games.

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That’s certainly not a style that new halfback Xavier Roe has probably ever experienced in his short but successful time in Mitre 10 Cup, nor is it one Bryn Gatland will have adopted very often in either the Blues or Highlanders outfits in his well-travelled Super Rugby career thus far.

That’s what Super Rugby really is though, a competition that actively asks for talent to step up and take their game to the next level. To do that takes adaptability, patience, a certain amount of professionalism, and the obvious requirement of raw talent.

There isn’t a single player in this latest Chiefs squad that doesn’t possess those qualities. The talents of Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown, and Sam Cane, among others, are well known; that shouldn’t be the big focus heading into this next season.

There is plenty of room in this particular Chiefs squad for plenty of players outside of the usual suspects to really step up and establish themselves in a quick manner.

That’s the challenge here: how can Clayton McMillan, a new coach at this level with a flair for attacking and entertaining rugby, create the vibe with his players to enable them the confidence to go out and back themselves and play in a way that is much more in tune with the typical Chiefs style?

The full Chiefs squad for 2021 is:

Props:
Sione Mafileo (North Harbour, *)
Atunaisa Moli (Tasman, 43)
Ollie Norris (Waikato, 4)
Reuben O’Neill (Taranaki, 10)
Aidan Ross (Bay of Plenty, 36)
Angus Ta’avao (Auckland, 35)

Locks:
Naitoa Ah Kuoi (Wellington, 12)
Josh Lord (Taranaki, *)
Laghlan McWhannell (Waikato, *)
Tupou Vaa’i (Taranaki, 7)

Loose Forwards:
Kaylum Boshier (Taranaki, *)
Lachlan Boshier (Taranaki, 56)
Mitchell Brown (Taranaki, 45)
Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty, 122)
Pita Gus Sowakula (Taranaki, 28)
Luke Jacobson (Waikato, 25)
Mitchell Karpik (Bay of Plenty, 29)
Simon Parker (Waikato, 1)

Halfbacks:
Xavier Roe (Waikato, *)
Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Bay of Plenty, 38)
Brad Weber (Hawke’s Bay, 85)

First five-eighths:
Bryn Gatland (North Harbour, *)
Rivez Reihana (Waikato, *)
Kaleb Trask (Bay of Plenty, 9)

Midfielders:
Anton Lienert-Brown (Waikato, 81)
Alex Nankivell (Tasman, 32)
Bailyn Sullivan (Waikato, 4)
Quinn Tupaea (Waikato, 12)

Outside backs:
Jonah Lowe (Hawke’s Bay, *)
Damian McKenzie (Waikato, 84)
Etene Nanai-Seturo (Counties Manukau, 14)
Shaun Stevenson (North Harbour, 52)
Chase Tiatia (Bay of Plenty, 1)
Sean Wainui (Taranaki, 38)

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:

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Clayton McMillan brings in seven players for potential one-off Chiefs campaign, including promising Waikato halves pairing

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