Updated: Jan 24, 2022
Written by Max Sharp.
Ever since the exit of Dave Rennie to Glasgow Warriors, then subsequently the Wallabies, the Chiefs have experienced somewhat of a rollercoaster ride in game-day performances under three different coaches. Colin Cooper (2018-2019) had a 56.25% win rate as their Head Coach, although they did indeed have a miserable start to the 2019 season.
Warren Gatland then took charge in 2020, leading them to four victories from six games before a lockdown shut the competition down. They then went winless in Super Rugby Aotearoa, finishing the season with a 28.57% win rate for Gatland, a major upset considering he was won the most trophies of any Head Coach in the game's history.
2022 sees Gatland return to the fold, but not as the coach this time. He has given this role to Clayton McMillan, his cover during the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour. Gatland, as Director of Rugby, has faith in McMillan's coaching, he must see the continuity of McMillan as the Head Coach as the way forward for the team. Afterall, the Chiefs made a remarkable comeback in 2021 to the Super Rugby Aotearoa final.
Max Sharp speaks to Māori All Black, Oliver Norris, on what the Chiefs did to improve in 2021.
In a Q+A I held with Oliver Norris, on The Black Jersey's YouTube channel, the main conclusion of the interview was that the Chiefs were able to overcome some self-doubt in their comeback and gain a massive confidence boost. The Chiefs, under Sam Cane and Brad Weber as co-captains, will continue to grow in confidence even more with this strong continuity of coaching, while the squad remains similar.
THREE KEY SIGNINGS FOR THE CHIEFS:
Wellington's Tyrone Thompson, educated at Napier Boys' High School, has moved north for his first-ever Super Rugby contract, which the Hurricanes will no doubt be livid over. Still 21 years old, Thompson will be an excellent third-choice hooker for the Chiefs, he has a surprising amount of pace and aggression in wide channels of the pitch, while he appears committed to improving his offloading and lineout throwing. Thompson already has 6 tries from 18 games for Wellington as well. Although he is stuck behind Bradley Slater, the son of former All Black, Gordon Slater, as well as Samisoni Taukei'aho, Thompson is sure to wear a black jersey within the next four years, if he is able to continue improving on the core roles of his position.
Brodie Retallick will be returning to the Chiefs after two seasons with the Kobelco Steelers, based in Kobe, Japan. This will make lock unquestionably, the Chiefs' biggest point of strength, with Tupou Vaa'i and Naitoa Ah Kuoi forming a formidable partnership in Retallick's absence, while Vaa'i's Taranaki team mate, Josh Lord, earned his first All Blacks cap much earlier than expected, in light of his enormous potential. Having these three possible all-time greats in the squad behind Retallick may be the kicker he needs for a late career resurgence in form, after a disappointing international season in 2021. As a former World Rugby Player of the Year, Retallick will look to hit the highs of his early career, to provide the youngsters with the best mentoring he can. Retallick is the Chiefs' greatest-ever lock, it would be very joyful to see him add even more to that legacy as he enters the twilight of his career.
After being pushed around into different jerseys, Josh Ioane has stood up for himself and found a weak spot, the Chiefs' 10 jersey. This will be Ioane's entry point back into a black jersey if he can avoid injury and look after his body. With Damian McKenzie leaving the Chiefs for a one-year deal with Tokyo Sungoliath in Japan, this will likely mean Kaleb Trask finally becomes a regular starter for the Chiefs, in a jersey he performs better in; fullback. While Bryn Gatland had promise in his early career, temperament issues were exposed in 2021, whereas Rivez Reihana lacks experience at Super Rugby level. Josh Ioane is the one who the Chiefs will be able to count on to direct the game plan, while he has the calmness to slot the game-winning goals that McKenzie did so often in 2021. Ioane appears to know that this will be a career-defining season for him and he appears determined with every inch of his body not to be a one-test All Black.
THREE KEY LOSSES FOR THE CHIEFS:
Nathan Harris has retired from rugby as a one-club man and 20-test former All Black, announcing his intentions to return to university and begin a new career as a Physical Education Teacher at the conclusion of Bay of Plenty's NPC campaign at the end of 2021. Harris became the second member of his family to wear a black jersey, after the late Perry Harris, his grandfather's cousin. His debut against Argentina in 2014 was when he was aged just 22, Steve Hansen has a strong amount of faith in Harris. Although his career went on to be plagued by injury, Harris still became a reliable backup for Codie Taylor and Dane Coles, while he found a great way to entertain Stadio Olimpico with his kicking game, during his final test, in 2018. Harris' leadership and strong lineout presence will be missed, all the best to him in his retirement.
The biggest omission of the Chiefs' 2022 squad is definitely Sean Wainui, after his tragic death from a single-vehicle crash hit New Zealand rugby very hard spiritually. Wainui, a charismatic personality who could play at both 11 and 13, was a possible candidate to replace Ash Dixon as the Māori All Blacks captain, he was a true man of mana. In his 25 years on earth, he was still able to make some excellent achievements in rugby, scoring 47 tries in his 123 games of professional rugby. Wainui also broke the long-standing record for most individual tries in a Super Rugby game in 2021, this was against the Waratahs in a five-try effort, even after he had missed six weeks of game time while injured. My deepest of condolences remain with the Wainui whānau, who will continue to miss an honourable man.
Another glaring omission is of course that of Damian McKenzie, who at 26 years old is already the team's highest-ever points scorer, with 882 points from 95 Super Rugby games. As previously mentioned, he has signed a one-season deal with Tokyo Sungoliath, having weighed up his options and choosing to cash in while he remains young. McKenzie appears to wish to return to New Zealand after his current contract expires, but this will still harm the Chiefs' on-field performance in 2022. His fangirls will continue to watch him in Japan, while other staunch Chiefs supporters will be worried about the team dropping in performance in his absence.
A POSSIBLE LINEUP FOR THE CHIEFS IN 2022:
FULL CHIEFS SQUAD FOR 2022:
* denotes a newly-signed player.
Italics denote a test-capped player.
Hookers: Bradley Slater, Samisoni Taukei'aho, Tyrone Thompson*
Props: Sione Mafileo, Atunaisa Moli, Oliver Norris, Reuben O'Neill, Aidan Ross, Angus Ta'avao
Locks: Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Josh Lord, Laghlan McWhannell, Brodie Retallick*, Tupou Vaa'i
Loose Forwards: Kaylum Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Sam Cane (co-captain), Samipeni Finau, Luke Jacobson, Simon Parker, Pita Gus Sowakula
Halfbacks: Cortez Ratima*, Xavier Roe, Brad Weber (co-captain)
First-Fives: Bryn Gatland, Josh Ioane*, Rivez Reihana, Kaleb Trask
Midfielders: Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Rameka Poihipi, Quinn Tupaea, Gideon Wrampling
Outside Backs: Jonah Lowe, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Emoni Narawa, Shaun Stevenson, Chase Tiatia
Potential MVP: Samisoni Taukei'aho
Potential Top Points Scorer: Josh Ioane
Potential Top Try-Scorer: Etene Nanai-Seturo
LIKELY FINISHING PLACE IN 2022:
1st place. Call me a biased Chiefs fan, because I am, but the same radar detector of mine, which predicted a red card in the 2017 British and Irish Lions series, Josh Adams finishing the 2019 Rugby World Cup as top try-scorer and an England resurgence under Eddie Jones (twice), is going off. It might not mean a win, but just because the Chiefs' squad isn't the best on paper doesn't mean it won't win. The Chiefs' dominance comes from the forwards, while the Crusaders' has crept more and more into the backs as the years under Robertson have progressed. Nine forwards in the Chiefs' forwards have test caps compared to just four backs, while as expressed at the start, continuity will be the key to success. The Chiefs are the team with the most of that by far, while the young team is only going to get better.