Gatland looks to balance success and opportunity

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Having a strong bench was clearly an advantage in the modern game, Gatland said. He had experienced its worth during his Welsh tenure. The Springboks had shown that in the World Cup last year while the Chiefs had benefited from it last week in coming from 5-19 down to beat the Blues.

 

It is an asset that was already being tested as they were hit with propping issues against the Blues.

 

Prop Nepo Laulala suffered medial ligament damage to his knee in the first quarter and was likely to be out for six weeks. Fellow prop Angus Ta'avao also suffered a knee injury and was also not able to be considered for this week.

 

That had resulted in Atu Moli shifting to the tighthead in order to avoid scrums having to go to Golden Oldies rules because both tightheads had been injured.

 

Gatland said Moli's shift to tighthead at halftime had been important for Moli's prospects. There was an opportunity for him in the future at loosehead for the All Blacks but it would also be good for his rugby to keep his hand in at tighthead as well.

 

"It makes him incredibly valuable as a prop not just in monetary terms but in terms of a squad member who can do that and cover both sides," he said.

 

"This first three or four rounds is definitely about giving players in the squad an opportunity and there's still players who haven't had a run out so we're still looking at next week going up to Japan with the Sunwolves and the following weekend the Brumbies.

 

"We've got to give players in this squad some game time because there's no doubt with the attrition we have seen we are going to pick up some injuries," he said.

 

Gatland said he felt his job with the Chiefs was to do whatever he could to get players in the All Blacks and that meant not rushing them back from injury or to put them under pressure.

 

That had been what he said to fullback Damian McKenzie after his groin tightened up after he did some speed work ahead of the Blues game.

 

"I said, 'Look, this is week one, what have we got to do in the next two or three months to get you back in the All Blacks and what have we got to do to those other players to get them ready to play in the All Blacks?'

 

"It's not burning the candle too early, it's to time things and make sure they're going well in April-May and that is the time of the year probably when the All Blacks selectors will start taking a keen interest in hopefully a number of players in our squad," he said.

 

Looking to their Saturday challenge, Gatland said the Chiefs respected what the Crusaders had achieved.

 

"They've been a great outfit and it's about respect. Let's respect them as a group of players and an organisation for they've achieved and, for us, we've got to go out and earn that respect.

 

"They've definitely earned it and we've got to go out and prove ourselves against what has undoubtedly been the best team in this competition for the last three years.

 

"They've sent the benchmark and it is important for us to go out there and do our own jobs, be accurate. We got better as the game went on last week and hopefully there's a step up in improvement and accuracy. There's definitely going to be a pick up in intensity," he said.

 

Gatland said there had always been an emphasis on attempting to win their first three games because it would set them up well for the rest of the season and potentially making the quarter finals.

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