The Chiefs may not have got the result they wanted on Saturday evening, but there was at least one positive to take out of the match.
When Mitchell Brown exited the game in the 23rd minute, Naitoa Ah Kuoi took to the field for his sixth Super Rugby cap. At just 20 years of age, Ah Kuoi was suddenly the senior lock on the park – partnering with Tupou Vaa’i on debut, himself also just 20-years-old.
The Chiefs started the season with plenty of questions regarding their second row. Brodie Retallick was on a sabbatical in Japan, which left Tyler Ardron and Michael Allardice as their two experienced locking options (though Ardron has spent the better part of his career in the loose forwards). They were joined by Laghlan McWhannell and Ah Kuoi – two men who had not yet earned Super Rugby debuts.
Brown, a blindside flanker by trade, was called upon to cover the second row at times and before Super Rugby Aotearoa had even kicked off, Allardice and McWhannell were ruled out for the season.
Brown’s departure early in the first half of the opening game of the competition left the Chiefs fielding one the greenest locking combinations you’re likely to see in Super Rugby – but they went about their work like seasoned professionals.
Ah Kuoi, in particular, added huge impetus off the bench and was one of the Chiefs’ strongest performer on the night. His 24-metres worth of carries was second in the forwards to just Pita Gus Sowakula and he was also the man unfortunate enough to be dumped on his shoulder by Vilimoni Koroi.
The big concern for the Chiefs, as it has been throughout the season, was the lack of accuracy in the lineouts. The Highlanders snaffled four of the visiting side’s lineouts. That was down to them competing better in the air, however, it was simply down to the Chiefs’ lineout throws sailing wayward.
Hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho is excellent in general play and eats metres on attack like he’s been starved during the week, but his delivery into the lineouts still requires a fair bit of work.
Saturday’s yips could be chalked up to the disruption in the lineouts that comes when you’re forced into fielding two relative newbies as your key jumpers but it’s been a concern for the Chiefs’ since the original Super Rugby competition kicked off back in January. Five months later, and they’re still having problems here and there.
Chiefs coach Warren Gatland, himself a former seasoned hooker, will be desperately searching for the solution to the Chiefs’ lineout woes before their match against the Blues next weekend but he’ll at least take solace in the fact that his young locks can do the business around the park.
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