The statistic that could pave the way for long-term success at the Chiefs
Across the five New Zealand Super Rugby Pacific squads announced earlier this week, 25 uncapped players were selected amongst the 190 or so men called up by their franchises.
The Chiefs, who were beaten finalists in last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, have brought just two fresh players into their squad: Wellington hooker Tyrone Thompson and Waikato halfback Cortez Ratima.
Samipeni Finau and Gideon Wrampling have also earned full-time contracts after being called up as injury cover last season, while Brodie Retallick, Josh Ioane and Emoni Narawa are the other additions to the side for 2022 (with Retallick returning from a two-year sabbatical in Japan).
Of the seven ‘new’ names, it’s notable that all bar Narawa have represented New Zealand in age-grade rugby.
Ratima and Wrampling were both selected in this year’s Under 20s squad for their home series, while Wrampling and Thompson were also included in last year’s cohort. Blindside Finau is another recent Under 20s graduate, featuring in the 2019 team that travelled to Argentina. Retallick, who at 30 years old is well past his age-grade days, was a member of the ridiculously overpowered 2011 side.
The loss of Damian McKenzie isn't an easy one to compensate for, but the return of Brodie Retallick and arrival of Josh Ioane means the Chiefs will boast plenty of star power in the inaugural season of Super Rugby Pacific. #SuperRugbyPacific #Chiefs https://t.co/VOiiA1Nt6P
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 21, 2021
Ioane didn’t quite make the cut for the Under 20s, but was selected in the 2013 Secondary Schools Barbarians team.
While the capabilities of Retallick and Ioane are already well known, it’s the pedigree and potential of the new additions that should bode well for the Chiefs next year and into the future. It also highlights the effectiveness of the professional pathways in New Zealand Rugby.
The influx of former age-grade players also means the Chiefs are now the NZ franchise with the highest proportion of players who have represented New Zealand during their formative years. In total, 35 of the 38 players selected by Clayton McMillan for next season have featured for either the Secondary Schools, Barbarians or Under 20s sides.
Narawa, Pita Gus Sowakula and Chase Tiatia are the only three players to have missed out on representative rugby. In the former two’s cases, they arrived in NZ very late into their development, with Sowakula actually representing Fiji’s top basketball side before fully transitioning to professional rugby.
Throughout the five Kiwi sides named for 2022, just 40 players were ‘missed’ by youth scouts – but a number of those men are in similar situations to Narawa and Sowakula. In total, 155 of the 195 players included in the squad announcements (including a small handful of injured players) have represented NZ in age-grade rugby – a little over three-quarters.
While pedigree doesn’t guarantee success by any stretch of the imagination, it indicates that the Chiefs have become excellent over the years at managing players into their squad from high-performance pathways. Tellingly, the Chiefs were also crowned Under 20 champions earlier this season.
Of the 35 players that have played age-grade footy, a not-insignificant number has joined the franchise from outside their catchment area, including the likes of All Blacks Anton Lienert-Brown, Atunaisa Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Tupou Vaa’i, Brad Weber, Retallick and Ioane – and the additions of recent recruits such as Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Rivez Reihana, Alex Nankivell and Thompson shows that the cycle is continuing indefinitely.
Coach McMillan will be hoping to take the Chiefs to the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific finals this season with a semi-final finish the bare minimum that should be expected from a team that may have loss the attacking talents of Damian McKenzie, but has picked up key recruits in other positions and perhaps had the best off-season of any of the New Zealand sides.
Chiefs’ age-grade representatives:
New Zealand Under 20s: Ollie Norris, Aidan Ross, Bradley Slater, Tyrone Thompson, Sione Mafileo, Atunaisa Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Josh Lord, Laghlan McWhannell, Brodie Retallick, Tupou Vaa’i, Kaylum Boshier, Sam Cane, Samipeni Finau, Luke Jacobson, Simon Parker, Cortez Ratima, Xavier Roe, Brad Weber, Rivez Reihana, Kaleb Trask, Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Rameka Poihipi, Quinn Tupaea, Gideon Wrampling, Jonah Lowe, Etene Nanai-Seturo.
New Zealand Secondary Schools: Reuben O’Neill, Bradley Slater, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Tyrone Thompson, Sione Mafileo, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Josh Lord, Laghlan McWhannell, Tupou Vaa’i, Mitchell Brown, Sam Cane, Luke Jacobson, Simon Parker, Bryn Gatland, Rivez Reihana, Quinn Tupaea, Gideon Wrampling, Jonah Lowe, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Shaun Stevenson.
New Zealand Barbarians: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Tupou Vaa’i, Kaylum Boshier, Samipeni Finau, Simon Parker, Josh Ioane, Kaleb Trask, Alex Nankivell, Quinn Tupaea.
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