New season, new conundrum at No 10 for Chiefs
With Damian McKenzie heading to Japan and Josh Ioane arriving in Chiefs country for the upcoming Super Rugby Pacific season, coach Clayton McMillan now faces the task of again determining how to best use his playmaking cattle.
This year, McKenzie, Bryn Gatland and Kaleb Trask were all handed opportunities in the No 10 jersey with Gatland taking the reins throughout much of the Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign and McKenzie eventually emerging as the first-choice first five-eighth.
Even when McKenzie wasn’t employed at No 10, he would often regularly pop up at first receiver throughout matches or slip into the playmaking role later in the piece.
In Ioane, the Chiefs now have a replacement who can similarly fit in at 10 or 15 – although perhaps with the role preferences reversed.
With Gatland and Trask still on the books, as well as young gun Rivez Reihana, McMillan’s biggest challenge is again going to be determining how to make the most of his riches at first five and fullback.
“We just want to see somebody put their hand up and sort of really stake a claim and say ‘Hey, I’m the guy to lead this exciting team around the park,'” McMillan said following the announcement of the Chiefs squad for 2022.
“They’re all very capable. There’s going to be some challenges there. Everyone will get an opportunity through the pre-season and those that really put up their hand will be rewarded with selection in the early part of the season.”
Ioane, who made one appearance for the All Blacks in 2019, has fallen off the national radar over the past two years and seemingly lost his way with the Highlanders, eventually losing his starting role to Mitch Hunt. His performances for Otago in this year’s NPC have many hoping that the 26-year-old could again push for national selection, but that will be dependant on the playmaker getting off to a good start with the Chiefs.
“Josh’s coming in, he’s played really well for Otago over the last five or six weeks,” McMillan acknowledged. “He’s obviously benefited from playing regularly at 10. He’s made no secret of the fact that he’s elected to come to the Chiefs to chase that 10 jersey but having seen some of the other contenders a little more regularly because they live a little bit closer around these parts, they’re not going to make it easy for him.”
The NPC wasn’t quite so fortuitous for the Chiefs’ other pivot options.
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Bryn Gatland’s North Harbour played just two matches before their season was prematurely ended due to Covid while Kaleb Trask’s Bay of Plenty had a bit more luck, but Trask himself went down with injury part-way through the season. Rivez Reihana, meanwhile, had a complete season with Northland but the Taniwha finished bottom of the provincial ladder.
As such, McMillan isn’t going into 2022 with any already determined plans for the season ahead.
“We haven’t really entered the season with any pre-conceived ideas around who will wear the 10 jersey, who will wear the 15 jersey,” he said. “We’ve got multiple options and we’ll explore a number of them through our pre-season and probably get a little bit closer to solidifying a preferred 23 as we get closer to the competition.
“There’s some value in versatility. Last year, we sort of showed that we started with Damian at 15 and moved him up to 10 late in the games. He got the odd start at 10. We thought that was good for his game. Kaleb Trask, Josh Ioane, Rivez Reihana, they all have the capability of fulfilling a similar role.”
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