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'We won with him and we lost with him and we crack on': Old conundrum facing the McKenzie-less Chiefs

By Tom Vinicombe

Trending on RugbyPass

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Heading into the 2021 season, the key battle amongst the Chiefs ranks appeared to be who would be entrusted with the No 10 jersey: Kaleb Trask or Bryn Gatland.

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Trask shared the duties with former All Black Aaron Cruden in 2020 and took over as the starting first five-eighth once any hopes of a Super Rugby Aotearoa championship were dashed, seemingly in preparation for the years ahead.

Curiously, while Trask and Gatland were both given ample opportunities at No 10 this year, it’s been Damian McKenzie who’s seemingly emerged as the first-choice candidate.

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Gatland has had the most starts at first five, playing five matches, while Trask has started in that role on three occasions. McKenzie’s taken on the playmaking duties in the last three encounters, however, and was likely to stay in the role, were it not for the three-week suspension handed out due to a high tackle made on Tate McDermott in the Chiefs’ loss to the Reds over the weekend.

Speaking to media on Tuesday, Chiefs assistant coach David Hill confirmed that McKenzie would be heading home to Hamilton while the rest of the team relocates from Queensland to Sydney in preparation for their match with the Rebels.

“He’s obviously pretty gutted with what went down but we made it pretty clear to him and the team made it pretty clear to him that he wasn’t allowed to say sorry or anything like that,” Hill said. “We won with him and we lost with him and we crack on.

“He was pretty upset after the game. He’s slowly coming round. We’re a pretty tight group, like to give each other a little bit of stick. He’s probably got to fill water bottles and do some laundry to make it up to us for the next day or two, until we kick him out and get rid of him.

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“It was obviously a disappointing red card during the game and when it comes to judiciary stuff, it’s very much out of our hands and just have to cop what they deem is the appropriate punishment and crack on.”

With McKenzie unavailable, it’s again time for the Chiefs coaches to elect a new No 10, with Trask and Gatland the obvious options.

Trask switched mirrored McKenzie’s usual in-game shift on Saturday evening, switching from fullback to first five once the starting No 10 had been sent from the field, and is probably a more like-for-like replacement for the All Black.

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Gatland, however, is perhaps a cooler pair of hands but Hill and his fellow coaches have the utmost trust in both players.

“We’ve got some great options there and very confident, have trust and faith in the whole squad to do a job,” said Hill. “We’ll just crack on and find the best combination for the next couple of games.

“Bryn started the [Super Rugby Aotearoa] final for us, Trasky started three in a row when we won three in a row. Really comfortable with either of those options. The Blues game, we started Bryn at 10 and Kaleb at 15 and … we’ve got [fullback] Chase [Tiatia] and even Shaun Stevenson. We’ve got some good options there.

“For this week, we’ll mix and match a little bit but we’re pretty flexible around what the team needs and how we want to play the game as to who starts there but as you’ve seen with Damo moving around, we’ve got the ability to start one at 15 and potentially move them and do a bit of that.”

The Chiefs are set to play the Rebels in Hamilton on Sunday but if the travel corridor between Victoria and New Zealand is not green-lit, the game will instead be played at Sydney’s Leichhardt Oval.

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'We won with him and we lost with him and we crack on': Old conundrum facing the McKenzie-less Chiefs

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