Five players to watch: The Chiefs

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Damian McKenzie (First five-eighths/Fullback)

 

All Blacks Tests: 21. Points: 65

Super Rugby games: 72 – Chiefs. Points: 638

Mitre 10 Cup games: (Waikato) 43. Points: Waikato 249

 

There will be no surprises that Damian McKenzie will be on everyone's watching list as he attempts to come back from the knee injury that kept him out of the World Cup campaign. But there is also the consideration of whether he will be preferred at first five-eighths or fullback and how new coach Warren Gatland perceives his role in the side?

 

McKenzie with 72 games already for the Chiefs is one of the more experienced members of the Chiefs backline and would be an asset in either position while his goal-kicking is also a key quality. Should he be able to recover his very best touches then plenty of excitement could be in the offing from the talented Chiefs backline. It should be well worth waiting to see.

Luke Jacobson (Flanker)

 

All Blacks Tests: 2

Super Rugby games: 21 (Chiefs). Points: 25

Mitre 10 Cup games: 10 (Waikato)

 

Just how highly Luke Jacobson's ability was viewed was apparent with his ultimately unsuccessful inclusion in the World Cup squad. While concussion issues recurred to result in his early return home, it will be hoped that with recovery time, he can put that behind him and build the career that has exciting long-term prospects not just for the Chiefs but on the international stage as well.

 

Jacobson ticks all the boxes for basic loose forward play, support play, lineout work and running with the ball. Add to that his developing leadership nous and the package is pretty complete, he just needs consistent game time to build his contribution further.

 

Quinn Tupaea (Second five-eighths)

 

Mitre 10 Cup games (Waikato) 21. Points: 70

 

After settling into first-class rugby as a 19-year-old, Tupaea played 11 of 12 games for Waikato in the Mitre 10 Cup in 2018. He shared in the side's Ranfurly Shield success over Taranaki and helped Waikato return to the Championship division of the competition. Awarded the emerging player of the Waikato season, he backed that up with another strong season in 2019.

 

Competition will be hot in the Chiefs midfield but Tupaea showed for Waikato that he is a genuinely exciting talent and if given suitable opportunities he shapes as a superb long-term asset for the Chiefs. If his attacking ability has been most notable, then coach Warren Gatland is also well equipped to bring out his defensive capabilities.

 

Bradley Slater (Hooker)

 

Super Rugby games: 1 (Chiefs)

Mitre 10 Cup games: 8 (Taranaki)

 

Having a taste of Super Rugby when called into the side as cover earlier in 2019, hooker Bradley Slater, a member of the New Zealand Under-20 side this year, is set to benefit significantly from the exposure to the experience and competition that will come from All Black Nathan Harris and Waikato-based Tongan player Samisoni Taukei'aho.

 

The former NZ Schools player will also have the chance to develop under Warren Gatland's eye and stands set to have a long involvement with the Chiefs. A solid campaign with Taranaki this year will have been a boost and set him up for his shot next year.

 

Aaron Cruden (First five-eighths)

 

All Black Tests: 50. Points: 322

Super Rugby games: 114 (Hurricanes – 25, Chiefs – 89). Points: 828 (146 - Hurricanes, 682 - Chiefs)

Mitre 10 Cup games: 33 (Manawatu). Points: 277

 

A Chiefs favourite, Aaron Cruden has rejoined the side after a three-year stint with Montpellier in France ended a year early due to injuries. He has signed up with Japan club Kobe, but only from midway through 2020.

 

That will leave him free to be available for the Chiefs for the 2020 Super Rugby campaign. Given his background with the side, he will be a more than useful resource in the five-eighths along with Damian McKenzie and Tiaan Falcon. With their respective returns from injury, Cruden shapes as a handy backup should he need to step into the breach.

 

Chiefs 2020 squad:

 

Nathan Harris, Bradley Slater, Samisoni Taukei'aho, Ryan Coxon, Nepo Laulala, Atu Moli, Reuben O'Neill, Aidan Ross, Angus Ta'avao, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Tyler Ardron, Michael Allardice, Laghlan McWhannell, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Sam Cane, Pita Gus Sowakula, Luke Jacobson, Mitchell Karpik, Dylan Nel, Lisati Milo-Harris, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Brad Weber, Aaron Cruden, Tiaan Falcon, Damian McKenzie, Kaleb Trask, Orbyn Leger, Anton Lienert-Brown, Tumua Manu, Alex Nankivell, Bailyn Sullivan, Solomon Alaimalo, Sam McNicol, Kini Naholo, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Shaun Stevenson, Quinn Tupaea, Sean Wainui.

 

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