It would be fair to say last season didn’t go to plan for the Hamilton-based club. They started the regular Super Rugby season with a hiss and a roar, beating the Blues and Crusaders in consecutive weeks. They found themselves in fifth place on the overall ladder with four wins from six games. But then came lockdown.
The Chiefs surprisingly struggled throughout Super Rugby Aotearoa and were winless in the eight-game competition. Yes, they had a few crucial calls that didn’t go their way, but they were flat by Chiefs standards and failed to fire a shot.
This will motivate them in 2021. Clayton McMillan has come on as interim head coach, while Warren Gatland joins the British and Irish Lions in the Northern Hemisphere, and they’ve recruited well. McMillan has called upon a few of his young and exciting Māori All Blacks contingent in the form of Jonah Lowe and Rameka Poihipi, while Bryn Gatland joins the squad from the Highlanders.
The Chiefs also have some impressive young talent in the mix. Ollie Norris, Kaylum Boshier, Xavier Roe, Rivez Reihana and Simon Parker have all recently played for either the New Zealand Under 20s or New Zealand Schools.
They also welcome back some key All Blacks experience, with front rowers Atu Moli and Angus Ta’avao returning from injury, as well as flanker Luke Jacobson.
The Chiefs had a good start to pre-season, coming away with two wins against the Hurricanes and Blues in the game of three halves at Maidstone Park in Upper Hutt.
Through the leadership of Sam Cane, the country’s best player in 2020, the Chiefs will look to put last season well and truly behind them and build towards a much-improved campaign in 2021.
Clayton McMillan comes into the Chiefs environment with plenty of praise. He turned Bay of Plenty’s fortune around, and in 2018 led them to a Mitre 10 Cup title. He’s a big believer in selecting local talent and has helped a number of his Steamers players go onto higher honors. The Chiefs obviously see a big future for McMillan at the club, having recently signed him on as assistant coach for the 2022 and 2023 seasons. The current Māori All Blacks coach has a reputation of creating a great culture in his environments and it will be interesting to see how he goes as he steps into the shoes of Warren Gatland in 2021.
Round 1: BYE
Round 2: Chiefs v Highlanders, 7.05pm Friday 5 March, FMG Stadium Waikato
Round 3: Crusaders v Chiefs, 7.05pm Saturday 13 March, Orangetheory Stadium Christchurch
Round 4: Hurricanes v Chiefs, 7.05pm Saturday 20 March, Sky Stadium Wellington
Round 5: Chiefs v Blues, 7.05pm Saturday 27 March, FMG Stadium Waikato
Round 6: BYE
Round 7: Highlanders v Chiefs, 7.05pm Saturday 10 April, Forsyth Barr Stadium Dunedin
Round 8: Chiefs v Crusaders, 7.05pm Saturday 17 April, FMG Stadium Waikato
Round 9: Chiefs v Hurricanes 7.05pm Friday 23 April, FMG Stadium Waikato
Round 10: Blues v Chiefs, 7.05pm Saturday 1 May, Eden Park Auckland
Forwards: Nathan Harris, Bradley Slater, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Sione Mafileo, Atunaisa Moli, Ollie Norris*, Reuben O’Neill, Aidan Ross, Angus Ta’avao, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Josh Lord*, Laghlan McWhannell, Tupou Vaa’i, Kaylum Boshier*, Lachlan Bosher, Mitchell Brown, Sam Cane ©, Pita Gus Sowakula, Luke Jacobson, Mitchell Karpik, Simon Parker*
Backs: Xavier Roe*, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Brad Weber, Bryn Gatland, Rivez Reihana*, Kaleb Trask, Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Bailyn Sullivan, Rameka Poihipi*, Quinn Tupaea, Jonah Lowe, Damian McKenzie, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Shaun Stevenson, Chase Tiatia, Sean Wainui
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