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Clayton McMillan eases fears around Josh Ioane injury

By Tom Vinicombe
Josh Ioane. (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

Clayton McMillan has made five changes to the Chiefs starting line-up for what could be their toughest remaining match of the Super Rugby Pacific regular season, with last week’s star first five invalided from the game due to a rib injury.


Josh Ioane was an instrumental figure for the Chiefs in the formative stages of their win over the Hurricanes last weekend and McMillan would have no doubt been planning on keeping the former Highlander in the No 10 jersey for their clash with the Blues in Hamilton on Saturday night.

Ioane made one bad mistake in the opening minutes of the game, gifting TJ Perenara a intercept try that could have put the Chiefs on the back foot, but Ioane’s incisiveness at the line and on-point skip passes helped ignite his team’s attack. Eventually, Ioane was forced to leave the field in the 59th with a rib injury but the strong start from McMillan’s men meant even a late-game comeback from the Hurricanes couldn’t prevent the Chiefs from taking home the points.

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Almost a week later, and Ioane is still on the mend.

“He just took a big knock to his ribs late in the game last week and was pretty dusty on Sunday and Monday so [was] never a realistic chance of playing this week,” McMillan said after announcing his squad to take on the Blues.


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“Nothing’s broken but he’s obviously presented really sore so it’s just one of those ones where it’s a ‘wait and see’ approach, really. Not 100 per cent sure [when he’ll be back].”

Ioane and Bryn Gatland have job-shared the first five-eighth duties for the Chiefs this year, with Ioane getting two runs on the board at the start of the campaign and Gatland taking over against the Crusaders (twice) and Moana Pasifika. Splitting the minutes between the two has been somewhat planned since the start of the season, given the ever-present threat of injuries, coupled with the disruption that Covid has brought forward this season.


“As we keep saying, in those driver positions it’s useful to keep them turning over because situations like this are gonna happen and we felt pretty well placed [with Ioane out injured],” McMillan said, while also noting that Saturday’s fullback, Kaleb Trask, is also more than capable of stepping into first receiver should the situation call for it.

“He’s played plenty of games for us at 10 and that probably facilitated him being in the matchday 23. We’ve gotta have two 10s and he’s more than capable of stepping up there if required.”

Trask has taken over from Emoni Narawa, who shifts onto the right wing in place of the in-form Alex Nankivell. Nankivell, in his 50th game, has been reinstated in the midfield with All Black Quinn Tupaea getting a break from the action after starting all six of the Chiefs’ games to date.

“A little bit of [it is rewarding Alex Nankivell] but also Quinn’s just played big minutes and we need to manage them,” McMillan said. “He’s pretty much started every game.


“We’ve managed to get him off early a few times. We’ve had intentions to leave him out of the 23 or to start him off the bench in previous weeks but Covid and a few injuries sort of dovetailed that. We’re in a healthier position at the moment so this is the week where he gets to freshen up.”

While the squad’s backs remain are now relatively healthy (although Shaun Stevenson and Jonah Lowe haven’t featured for a couple of weeks and are being slowly eased back into action, ostensibly after sitting out due to Covid), the same can’t be said for the second row, where the Chiefs will have to cope without Brodie Retallick, Tupou Vaa’i and Laghlan McWhannell. Thankfully, with Josh Lord and Naitoa Ah Kuoi to call upon, McMillan won’t have any reservations about the competence of his locks heading into Saturday night’s fixture.

“We feel pretty blessed in the locking space,” McMillan said. “We’ve got Samipeni [Finau on the bench] and we’ve got Mitch Brown returning who have all played in the locking position for us for the last few years.

“It’s unfortunate that we’ve been decimated a little bit in that space but we’re still putting out some bloody good men who’ve stood up time and again for us over the last few years so no dramas there.”

McWhannell and Vaa’i are both navigating 10-day concussion stand-downs while prop Sione Mafileo, who was a late withdrawal from last weekend’s match, is also still sidelined.

“Tupou took a head knock – I think it was in our last training last week – so he’s just gotta follow the 10-day protocol which rules him out from this week. He’s bounced back fine so anticipate that he’ll be back on deck next week.

“And in Sione’s case, he’s just picked up a bit of a niggle with his back that it just isn’t worth risking at the moment. [Replacement prop] George Dyer, he hasn’t let us down in the couple of opportunities he’s had. You lose a good man but we’re replacing him with another good one.”

The Blues and Chiefs are sitting in 4th and 6th respectively place on the overall table but a win for the home side on Saturday would leave the two teams neck and neck, with the Blues still to travel to Christchurch to take on the Crusaders and the Chiefs due to host Moana Pasifika in Hamilton next weekend.

This weekend’s fixture kicks off at 7:05pm NZT on Saturday evening.


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