Super Rugby
Dave Rennie: Chiefs 'just got to be able to front' in Super Rugby
Sam Bruce
February 11, 2016
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie© Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

The time for whingeing has come and gone, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie says. The Super Rugby draw is what it is and now it's just about getting on with the job.

The world's premier provincial rugby competition will make the leap into Argentina and Asia when the Jaguares and Sunwolves join South Africa's Southern Kings in the new-look now-18-team competition.

The two-group, four-conference format has come in for plenty of criticism since it was unveiled midway through 2014, largely due to the potential damage to the competition's integrity. But two-time title-winning coach Rennie has moved on from that discussion, choosing instead to focus his energy on building the squad depth he believes will be critical for success.

"Yeah, I guess we've all had our grizzles over the past couple of years knowing other teams were coming in," Rennie told ESPN.

"Oh, look, it's got some challenges: we've got to travel around the world, playing in South Africa and then Argentina and then coming back home and playing and then going back to Canberra.

"Look I think the thing is you've got to be prepared to use a lot of your squad to get through all the travel and so on.

"In the end it is what it is; so we've just got to be able to front. [The draw is] certainly going to have some challenges for a lot of teams."

The Chiefs have undergone one of the biggest squad overhauls of the competition following the departure of the experienced Ben Tamefiuna, Tom Marshall, Mike Fitzgerald and Bryce Heem and the unavailability of New Zealand All Blacks Sevens representatives Sonny Bill Williams and Liam Messam.

Those omissions, along with pre-season injuries to key off-season recruits Nepo Laulala and Dominic Bird, as well as Augustine Pulu, have made the Chiefs' pre-season "rookie camp" all the more important as Rennie prepares to blood more youth than ever before.

"Well the big thing is we've had a lot of personnel change, we've lost a lot of experience and it's hard to replace that," he said.

"We've certainly got a lot of young fellas and so we've put a lot of emphasis on up-skilling them; we took 12 fellas away on a camp prior to the rest of the team assembling just to give them an understanding of what it's like to be a professional athlete.

"It was all non-rugby specific but it challenged them physically and mentally, and we got the chance to sit around the fire and that sort of thing.

"So I think that's been our biggest focus; you know educating the new guys and giving them an understanding of the intensity of footy at this level."

Aaron Cruden
Aaron Cruden© Peter Drury/Getty Images

While the demands on each team have been reduced by one game (15), the addition of the Jaguares and Sunwolves means there are two new time-zones to the competition. To reduce that exposure, those two sides have been separated in two South Africa groups; conversely, it means those same groups will face only either the Australian or New Zealand conference in the Australasian Group.

Asked to nominate the competition contenders, Rennie alluded to the good fortune of both the Bulls and Stormers in the draw, as neither have to face a New Zealand side until at least week one of the play-offs (should they get that far).

"Oh it's always hard to say, I mean the Waratahs are such a big team and you'd imagine they'd be pretty well oiled again," Rennie told ESPN.

"I think the Lions are certainly the strongest South African side. They dominated Currie Cup and had a really good Super Rugby season last year; they were a bit unlucky to miss out on the playoffs.

"But you know there's no easy games in this competition; we've got to play six Kiwis and five Aussies. So I guess you know that's the vagaries of this comp.

"The Stormers and the Bulls on that side of the draw [Africa 1], they don't have to play any Kiwis in round robin, which, gee, I wouldn't mind that - playing 15 games, no Kiwis. But I guess it's just the way things are."

The Chiefs' hopes of a third title could well hinge on All Blacks playmaker Aaron Cruden, and how he returns after a season-ending knee injury in 2015.

Aaron Cruden
Aaron Cruden© Martin Hunter/Getty Images

Rennie moved to safeguard against any extended absence by adding former playmaker Stephen Donald to his existing back-up option Damian McKenzie, but the Chiefs coach is quietly confident that Cruden will be back to his silky best in next to no time at all.

"It's been great," he told ESPN of Cruden's recovery. "And we've been lucky I guess the fact that he didn't go to the World Cup meant he was in November with us, so his leadership's been massive.

"And it's been great for him to get a chance to get in amongst all the new boys and really get to know them well.

"Physically he's going well ... we probably won't use him against the Waratahs but he'll come back in against the Blues; we just want to get a little bit more contact into him. But he's very confident and going well."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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