Super Rugby
Kahui should have played his move better
February 22, 2013
The Chiefs' Richard Kahui is shackled by the Brumbies' defence, Chiefs v Brumbies, Super Rugby, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand, March 16, 2012
Richard Kahui has caused the Chiefs an unwanted distraction ahead of their title defence. © Getty Images

Richard Kahui's decision to take up an overseas contract at the end of the Super Rugby season was not a surprise, but he should have kept All Blacks coach Steve Hansen in the loop; especially since Kahui wants to return and challenge for a Rugby World Cup place in 2015.

Surely it was in his best interest to let his employers, the New Zealand Rugby Union, know his thinking. The union, after all, supported him through a number of serious injuries.

I can understand him wanting to secure his future. He is in the same scenario as Jerome Kaino, player of the year in 2011, who had also had shoulder surgery. Those injuries don't go away. But it is wise in the circumstances to keep your boss informed.

The news was something of a distraction the champions didn't need, as they are suffering a number of injuries ahead of their season-opener against the Highlanders in Dunedin.

The Chiefs, in spite of their defence of the title, haven't been talked about a lot pre-season - the Kahui story apart. There is a feeling that a lot of things fell into place for the side last year, when they also had the world's most dynamic midfielder in Sonny Bill Williams. Their forward pack probably overachieved, as well.

The Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes have all improved their squads in the wake of the Chiefs' success, while the champions have not made a lot of changes. As such, it will be interesting to see how they go against the new-look Highlanders.

The Highlanders now have a vast amount of experience, which they will be looking to put to use to beat the Chiefs, who have injury concerns at the start of the season.

The leadership group at the Highlanders has been expanded with the arrival of prop Tony Woodcock and second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu, and fans will be looking for the side to win the New Zealand Conference and winning the Super Rugby final for the first time.

Further down the track, they will have been boosted by news that the injury suffered by Tamati Ellison is not as bad as was feared and that he could be back in action sooner than anticipated.

The other contest is between the Hurricanes and the Blues. The Blues are now where the Hurricanes were at the start of last year. They have a world of talent, and some experience, to break games open. They will rely heavily on momentum and leadership, but they are quite capable of beating the Hurricanes first up.

The Hurricanes sneaked up on everyone last year, and they were extremely dangerous. They played at a fast pace and they will only have become better up front with the acquisition of props Ben Franks and Ben May. They have a star-studded backline, but will they have the same impact? Last year they scored most points in the competition with the least amount of possession.

This weekend is the start of what is going to be a fascinating season of New Zealand Conference rugby.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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