Chiefs unlikely to keep SBW in Hamilton

Sonny Bill Williams will likely announce a long-term commitment to New Zealand Rugby tomorrow morning, with two teams both putting down offers for the code-hopping superstars services.

Tana Umaga has been quietly planning for the future at the Blues and has already signed a big name at halfback with the signature of Augustine Pulu, but the rumour mill has always been rife with talk that the one player Umaga really wanted to add to the Blues roster was Williams.

Umaga is so serious to lure Williams that he travelled to Sydney this week to meet with the code-hopping superstars’ manager Khoder Nasser to put an offer on the table.  Continue reading Chiefs unlikely to keep SBW in Hamilton

Ball containment key for Wallabies in Sydney

The All Blacks should expect their biggest pre-world cup test away from home tonight in Sydney.

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To cause an upset, the Wallabies will have to adopt a physical and brave approach. Kicking possession away will cost points, the New Zealand back three of Ben Smith, debutant Milner-Skudder, and the powerful Julian Savea will be potent with just an inch of open space available.

The Wallabies have a good attacking game, a good passing game, and a reasonably stable set piece, but Quade Cooper’s kicking accuracy is a real concern. Isreal Folou has typically been great in the Wallabies uniform against other sides, but when the winger comes up against the All Blacks, he tends to crumble.

Holding possession and limiting the All Blacks to shots on goal will be key, and likely, the only way for the Wallabies to end the losing drought.

Michael Hooper’s presence in the breakdown will be a major factor; the Wallabies must match Richie McCaw in physicality and keep the turnover numbers low.

For the All Blacks, this will be the last ‘big game’ stage away from home prior to the RWC – and this makes the result very important. The environment will be hostile and a good taste of what will be in store come the finals of the RWC in England.

Daniel Carter will need to kick well to keep himself in the selectors minds as the starter moving forward, and time is quickly running out for Sonny Bill Williams to show his worth upon his return to rugby; there will be no better place to do it than his old stomping grounds at ANZ Stadium.

Tonight’s winner will secure both the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship.

SBW will always have to earn All Blacks selection

Sonny Bill Williams felt used in the Rugby World Cup in 2011, and the rejection of a private sponsorship deal wasn’t the only reason.

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Amongst the All Blacks victory over South Africa overnight, a report on the NZ Herald about an upcoming biography on Sonny Bill Williams has the potential to do some real damage to the image of the code-swapping superstar.

Williams and his camp have refused to comment on the biography, which is believed to be ‘unauthorised’.

Written by Paul Kent, it is written that Williams felt highly frustrated with All Blacks coach Graham Henry for his lack of game time prior to the RWC in 2011, and it reveals that Williams was told to quit NZ rugby before the tournament.

According to the book, Williams left the team shortly after a match against the Wallabies at Eden Park and then flew to Los Angeles with his camp to go shopping. Williams was told that Graham Henry didn’t know who he was by leaving ‘the worlds best player’ on the bench, and it is believed that Williams felt he deserved more time on the field.

Many rugby followers in New Zealand are still resentful of Williams and his “on again off again” presence in rugby union, and being a part-time boxer on the side doesn’t help.

Wether ‘camp Williams’ wants to believe it or not, Williams will likely be a bench warmer for the upcoming World Cup also, and his form at the moment warrants it.

Williams didn’t hit his stride in the All Blacks outfit until 2012 – a season after the World Cup in 2011.

The fact that Williams or anyone else in his camp isn’t commenting on these claims comes as no surprise.

It is highly likely that the events that Paul Kent has written in the biography are entirely true, but many would question the attitude of Williams and his advisors as there has never been any performance from Williams in rugby, this year especially, that suggests he should be a more regular starter in the All Blacks.

Williams is believed to be a man driven by achievement, and not being an integral part of any rugby side doesn’t seem to sit well.

No player is bigger than the game itself, Graham Henry knew that in 2011, and no one, not even Sonny Bill Williams should question that.

Chiefs lacking convincing results as playoffs arrive

The Chiefs are still alive in Super Rugby, but the stumble against the Hurricanes last night has point for concern.

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James Lowe looked good on his return to the field after several weeks on the injury list, making several open play kicks as usual and looking likely with ball in hand, but Sonny Bill Williams looked a shadow of his former self.

Williams was eager to offload as per usual, but he didn’t think through his passing very well on occasion, including one handoff to a Hurricanes defender which put his side on the back foot.

The Chiefs had a 13-point lead in the first half, only to cough up 21-points to lose in convincing fashion.

Another yellow card was added to the club’s telly, but that was the least of the problems when referee Chris Pollock also gave the Hurricanes a penalty try after Tom Marshall shoulder barged Julian Savea on the try line.

Despite captain Liam Messam’s appeals, replays clearly showed no arms in Marshall’s tackle.

From there, the Hurricanes turned an underwhelming start into a storming comeback, helped in large by several handling errors from the Chiefs and some questionable decisions to turn down shots at goal with many minutes to play.

Marty McKenzie landed all his attempts on goal but didn’t appear to take the ball to the line all that often, and this wasn’t helped with a floating pass out back which James Marshall intercepted to score the Hurricanes second try and put the hosts behind on the scoreboard.

An underwhelming performance where the Chiefs had placed themselves in a decent position to win, and many will say that the Chiefs have no one to blame but themselves, and looking at the tape it is hard to argue against that.

Augustine Pulu also went into surgery last night according to a post on Instagram, presumably to repair the injured wrist.

The Chiefs will now travel to Dunedin to play the Highlanders in the wildcard playoffs next Saturday.

SBW must find superstar pedigree in Canes clash

With average performances at best in 2015, Sonny Bill Williams will need to be at his brilliant best tonight against the Hurricanes.

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Sonny Bill Williams hasn’t played for several weeks, and with a mediocre season for the Chiefs so far, it seems as if the code-hopping superstar may have more on the line tonight than the actual result for his side.

Williams has one try in 2015, against the Crusaders all the way back in week three.

It was clear that Williams partnered well with Damian McKenzie in week one against the Blues in Albany.

With Aaron Cruden on the shelf for the rest of the year, Williams will go to battle tonight with Marty McKenzie like he did against the Rebels in Hamilton back on Anzac weekend.

Some in the media have speculated that Williams returned to New Zealand in the hopes of being the first choice All Black midfielder.

But the form of Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith has all but pushed Williams to the bench come international season, and even that status is being questioned by many.

Williams’ turnover rate is high with ball in hand.

The real depth of Williams’ back strain injury has never been fully known.

Dave Rennie told media this week that Williams could have played last week against the Reds, and tonight’s return against the Hurricanes was always part of the plan.

It is believed that Williams’ return will bolster the Chiefs chances in New Plymouth, but the stats so far suggest this is far from the case.

Williams is not just playing for the Chiefs tonight, he is playing for his credibility in his union return.

Missing World Cup may benefit Leinert-Brown

Anton Lienert-Brown will miss out on the Junior Rugby World Cup but he has a big opportunity to become a mainstay starter for the Chiefs.

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With the growing number of injuries in Chiefs country, Anton Lienert-Brown will miss out on the U-20 Rugby World Cup in Italy.

The decision was officially announced last night

Lienert-Brown has been hungry for game time at a level of rugby beyond ITM Cup since last years Junior World Championship.

It wasn’t until Sonny Bill Williams went down with injury that the youngster finally got his chance for continual minutes on the field in Super Rugby.

Lienert-Brown has played four games for the Chiefs in Super Rugby this year, and has started in the 12 jersey for the last two weeks straight.

Solid performances particularly on defence against both the Hurricanes and the Bulls have seen Leinert-Brown become a viable replacement for the injured Sonny Bill Williams.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said last week that the club wanted Lienert-Brown to join the New Zealand side in Italy for the tournament.

“We want Anton to travel, he has played in that tournament already, but playing in a World Cup away from home is certainly something special,” Rennie said.

Playing in Italy would have been an amazing experience for Lienert-Brown, but the opportunities that lie ahead with the Chiefs for the rest of the season could be just as rewarding.

Serious season importance on Chiefs clash

The Chiefs will take on the Hurricanes seriously under strengthed tonight.

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A potential home quarter-final hangs in the balance for Dave Rennie and his men.

Sonny Bill Williams and James Lowe will both miss tonights clash due to injury.

The loss of SBW in particular is a big blow – not only for the fans who were looking forward to the exciting showdown of Nonu v Williams, but also the loss in physical presence in the midfield has handed a big advantage to the Hurricanes.

Andrew Strawbridge told media on Thursday that the Chiefs are not going to sweat heavily on young Damian McKenzie in his role in the vital first five position tonight.

Kicking the points is going to be crucial, perhaps the difference between winning and losing against a top of the table Hurricanes which have showed seemingly unbreakable defense this year.

However – should Andrew Horrell make the starting lineup, McKenzie’s kicking duties may be void.

Anton Lienart Brown has come into the side in replacement of Williams but it remains to be seen if the Chiefs coaches will start the youngster or back the experience of Horrell in the midfield.

Look for Horrell to be moved into the starting lineup tonight.

Bryce Heem moves onto the wing.

Discipline has been an issue, turnover ball, and injuries which have seen the Chiefs field varied different starting lineups throughought the season.

The record is good – only three losses thus far gives the Chiefs second standing in the NZ conference but the fact is – to beat the Hurricanes at home in Wellington tonight is going to mean the best performance from the Chiefs this season undoubtadley.

Chiefs ready for hungry Crusader backlash

The Chiefs are aware of a Crusaders side out for blood on Friday night as Charlie Ngatai and Sonny Bill Williams both return to the starting line-up.

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The Chiefs hope that the returning midfield pair will last the full 80-minutes in Christchurch.

Chiefs assistant coach Tom Coventry believes that being as accurate as possible in all areas of the game as well as keeping good discipline will be important if the Chiefs are to get their second successive win over the Crusaders this season.

Ngatai hasn’t been a part of the Chiefs squad since prior to the South African tour and SBW missed out on the last game against the Blues.

The Chiefs say that they hope the due will work as well together as they did last time they were paired.

“We’ve been nursing them both through the last couple of weeks” Coventry said.

Tim Nani Williams also returns to the starting squad following injury and will play on the right wing.

Damian McKenzie misses out this week as Tom Marshall covers fullback in what some are calling a surprising selection.

Coventry said that the Chiefs want to keep McKenzie in Chiefs country as they continue to groom the young playmaker as a two-position utility.

“We will just make sure he specialises in one but having the ability to play at both ten and fullback will be a big feather in his cap going forward in his rugby career” Coventry said.

Blues lose again in tight Chiefs encounter

The Blues have lost again as the Chiefs remain in good position on the Super Rugby ladder after winning 23-16 in front of over 14,000 on Easter Saturday at Waikato Stadium.

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The Blues played positive running rugby early on, but were let off the hook twice in the first ten minutes when Aaron Cruden missed two consecutive penalty shots on goal.

Cruden looked to have injured his left shoulder in a tackle but played on.

Playing most of the game in Blues territory, the Chiefs took the lead in the 18th minute when Cruden slotted the ball through the sticks from out in front.

A brilliant break downfield by Tom Marshall put the Chiefs in space with no Blues defenders back.

Augustine Pulu nearly score the Chiefs first try, but Charles Piutau knocked the ball out of Pulu’s grasp in the goal line.

Damian McKenize clutched at his left leg and was limping badly back at fullback but tried to battle on.

McKenzie appeared to be running a little more freely as time ticked away.

The Chiefs surged downfield again, and James Lowe went in for another try on the season and the Chiefs had a ten-point lead following Cruden’s conversion.

Daniel Bowden put the Blues on the scoreboard when the Chiefs gave away a penalty.

The Chiefs led 10-3 at halftime.

The Blues started the second half by taking the ball to the line hard and with some hot footwork broke downfield and were knocking on the door of the try line but lost the ball.

After McKenzie dropped the ball trying to clear, the Blues had an attacking scrum.

Jerome Kaino broke off the back of the scrum and charged over the line with defenders holding onto him to score a try. With Bowden’s conversion, the Blues were all square 10-10.

The Blues kept surging and were awarded with a penalty.

Dan Bowden made no mistake, putting the Blues into the lead for the first time in the match 13-10.

The Chiefs quickly tied things up again when Cruden kicked a penalty from out in front.

As the Blues continued to mount attack after attack in the Chiefs half, a turnover led to Michael Leitch breaking downfield and he looked like he had the pace to go all the way before the Blues defenders scrambled back.

It took a few phases, and more than a few occasions where the Chiefs had numbers to burn out wide, but the try was scored by Tom Marshall to put the Chiefs back into the lead.

Aaron Cruden increased the lead to ten points when he kicked a long penalty go with time ticking down.

With little over a minute to go, Ihaia West scored three consolation points but the Chiefs held on to the lead as the buzzer sounded to secure a 23-16 win in Hamilton.

Damian McKenzie set for Chiefs debut against Blues

The Chiefs have announced their squad for the first round of Super Rugby against the Blues in Albany on Saturday night.

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The squad features three debutants.

Damian McKenzie has been given the nod ahead of his brother Marty for the starting role at first five eighth.

Partnering SBW in the midfield will be Charlie Ngatai who will start over ITM Cup Player of the Year Seta Tamanivalu who didn’t even make the bench, a decision that surprised many.

“Seta has had a couple of setbacks with niggling injuries and we are just holding him back” Chiefs assistant coach Andrew Strawbridge said.

Johan Bardoul and Maama Vaipula also make their debuts in the front row.

After captaining the squad during the two pre season trail matches, Matt Symons holds onto the leadership role but Chiefs Rugby say it will be reviewed after this weekend.

Brad Weber was another surprise selection, starting at halfback while Augustine Pulu goes to the reserves.

The full Chiefs squad for Saturday:

1.  Pauliasi Manu
2.  Hika Elliot
3.  Ben Tameifuna
4. 
Matt Symons ©
5.  Michael Fitzgerald
6.  Johan Bardoul *
7.  Sam Cane
8.  Maama Vaipulu*
9.  Brad Weber
10. Damian McKenzie*
11. James Lowe
12.
Sonny Bill Williams
13. Charlie Ngatai
14. Tim Nanai-Williams
15. Tom Marshall

16. Rhys Marshall
17. Jamie Mackintosh
18. Siate Tokolahi*
19. Michael Allardice*
20. Tevita Koloamatangi
21. Augustine Pulu
22. Marty McKenzie*
23. Bryce Heem*