Having three classy options to play first five is one of the rare luxuries that the Chiefs can say they’ve got right now.
Kaleb Trask takes the reigns and will be asked to marshal the Chiefs backline this weekend against the Hurricanes, a change that makes perfect sense at this point in proceedings.
Bryn Gatland has impressed Chiefs coaches in his first two starts for the Waikato-based franchise, running the cutter reasonably well and showing his experience at Super Rugby level.
As was the case during his stint with the Highlanders, Gatland hasn’t had a forward pack doing a terribly great job in front of him, but his poise and relative composure could be denied by few.
“We actually really like what Bryn’s brought to the table,” McMillan told media on Thursday. “He’s brought a lot of calmness and direction but Trasky is a little bit more of an attacking player so his challenge will be to get the balance right between controlling and driving us around the right parts of the field and then showcasing his running game.”
It’s fair to say that competition for a spot in the Chiefs backline is one of the more contestable elements for this particular franchise that finds itself with the freedom to experiment given the dismal record of late.
Many would’ve predicted another start for Gatland this week with Trask making his return to top flight footy off the bench but, despite their 0-11 losing streak, there is little logic in having Gatland, Trask, and Damian McKenzie all playing in the same Chiefs match-day squad.
Trask comes in for two reasons. Firstly, he’s fit and ready after missing the first two weeks due to a knee issue. Now is as good a time to play him as any and it’s a deserving selection when you think back to the good signs he showed during his rookie season last year.
Secondly, it works well for a guy like McKenzie.
McKenzie already fills in a lot at first receiver despite selection at fullback. Trask did that the same role but in reverse for the Chiefs at points last season, named at first five but doing a fair bit of his work at fullback to allow McKenzie to come in and make that switch whenever the Chiefs saw fit.
“Damo’s gone up into 10 and made a pretty good fist out of both positions so we’re sticking with that formula,” said McMillan. “Unless we have a major shift in thinking, three isn’t going to go into two for most of the season.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 18, 2021
Gatland is that genuine specialist first five option the Chiefs have, and this is an important distinction.
Trask is a more attacking type of player in comparison to Gatland, an aspect that is perfectly suited to a duel type of role. Until the Chiefs decide to take the gamble and select McKenzie as a first five, and play him there consistently, there is little to no logic in having a first five specialist coming off the bench.
That’s why it made sense to start Gatland from the outset, in that specialist first five role, and that’s why it makes sense to rest him now because his specialty is something that is set to serve the Chiefs moving forward.
It’s now up to Trask to show that he is a viable solution, not just an option, for the Chiefs in this crucial position. Remember Tiaan Falcon? Some said that he was the next big 10 in Chiefs country, but truth be told, the 22-year old was only ever an option that could fill in when needed.
Falcon consistently battled with injury but it’s fair to argue that fitting him into the Chiefs backline was always particularly challenging, firstly because of his lack of versatility, and secondly, an inability to really command the position in comparison to others.
In Bryn Gatland, the Chiefs now have that out and out first five – and the quality is there for anyone to see. Trask has shown a little bit of quality himself, and he did it primarily at first five for the Chiefs, proving himself to be a bona fide No 10, not just a fill-in running the cutter.
It really is a good problem for the Chiefs to have. At least that’s before the gamble is taken and McKenzie shifts into the role many feel he should have made his own by now.
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