Super Rugby
Chiefs must 'step up and steel up'
March 11, 2014
All Blacks second-row Brodie Retallick is set to return to boost the Chiefs © Getty Images

Chiefs lock Mike Fitzgerald says the back-to-back defending Super Rugby champions must "step up and steel up" against the Stormers in Hamilton on Friday night. But the 114kg second-row is looking forward to pitching himself against the big South Africans as the Chiefs look to continue their unbeaten start to the Super Rugby season after the bye last week.

Fitzgerald has slotted into the No.4 jersey since the departure of co-captain Craig Clarke to Ireland, bringing the same workaholic attitude to the role that Clarke epitomised alongside all-purpose All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick during the past two championship-winning campaigns.

"He hit a lot of rucks and made a lot of tackles and I guess I'm just trying to replicate his game style because it worked quite well for us having a big worker there with Brodie," Fitzgerald said of Clark.

Fitzgerald, 27, was one of coach Dave Rennie's "spark plugs" off the bench for most of last season, but a run of starts when Clarke was injured gave the lock the confidence and belief that he could step up this campaign.

"I'm trying to have a bit more input with the lineout and defensive stuff," Fitzgerald said of his leadership role this season. "When you try and teach other guys stuff, it brings out the best in you."

The Chiefs lineout, which has had a few wobbles in the opening two matches, can expect to come under plenty of pressure at Waikato Stadium, as the Stormers were very effective disrupting the Crusaders' set-piece in their narrow loss last weekend. Bur the set-piece should improve given the news that Retallick is one of three Chiefs to return from injury this weekend. Ben Afeaki and Gareth Anscombe are also available for selection for the back-to-back champions this week.

The Chiefs, whose defence has earned them wins against the Crusaders and Highlanders, also need to be more clinical on attack and retain possession better if they are to crack the Stormers' rush defence, Fitzgerald said. "Our defence has definitely been what we've won games on so we've got to sort out our attack so we're not defending so long. It takes it out of you when you're defending that long. But if we just try and look after our own pill we should be right."

Veteran flanker Tanerau Latimer, who will play his 100th Super Rugby game this Friday, said the Chiefs had to improve the speed of their ruck ball if they were to approach their standards of last season.

"We've played without the ball a fair bit and so we've had a look at a lot of our areas but it's our contact area," Rennie said. "Traditionally in the last couple of years we've got really quick ball and [this year] the ball's been too slow. It's an area we feel we're nowhere near where we have been in the past and it needs to be better. We've looked at the quality of our carry and the quality of our contact support in generating that."

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