Super Rugby preview: Chiefs

Date published: February 14 2013

With the new Super Rugby season looming large on the horizon we take a look at each of the 15 competitors. Next up, the Chiefs!

With the new Super Rugby season looming large on the horizon we take a look at each of the 15 competitors. Next up, the Chiefs!

Last Year: Champions! The Chiefs, with only a handful of experienced players in their squad, were largely written off at the start of the season but proved the pundits wrong by winning the New Zealand conference and finishing second on the table. They had lost some momentum in their last couple of Conference games when the long season started to tell, and were underdogs heading into their semi-final clash with the Crusaders. In a thrilling encounter, the hosts managed to win by a slim three-point margin. Getting ready to travel to Cape Town, they got the good news that they would host the final as the Sharks beat the Stormers. A week later, the Chiefs capped an exceptional year to be crowned the Super Rugby champions for the first time ever after trashing the Sharks 37-6 in a one-sided final. They became only the sixth different side to win the crown in the 17-year history of the tough championship.

This year: The challenge for the defending champions will be dealing with the expectation created by last year's magnificent championship win. The Chiefs have lost keys players in the backs (Sonny Bill Williams) and forwards (Sona Taumalolo), but they start the tournament as favourites and need to deliver in order to prove that last year's title win as not a one-hit wonder. It's an epic feat to win this tournament, let alone in consecutive seasons. However, the Chiefs have the brains and brawn to do it. They also have a very good draw which should aid them in their title defence.

Players to watch: Offering crisp service, an educated boot and an eye for the gap, Tawera Kerr Barlow is the all-round scrum-half. His partnership with playmaker Aaron Cruden – last season's top scorer with 251 points – will once again be one of the vital cogs in this Chiefs machine. Also keep an eye on Gareth Anscombe when Cruden is given a breather. Unwanted by the Blues this season, the Aucklander will want to make a name for himself in Hamilton. In the Chiefs engine room, they are blessed with quality loose forwards in the form of Liam Messam and Sam Cane – the two All Blacks are scavengers on the deck, and make contesting rucks an art.

Noteworthy signings: Charlie Ngatai (Hurricanes), Gareth Anscombe (Blues), Nick Crosswell (Highlanders), Patrick Osborne (Canterbury), Rhys Marshall (Hawke's Bay colts), Ross Filipo (Hurricanes), Solomona Sakalia (Wellington Lions).

Noteworthy losses: Sonny Bill Williams (Sydney Roosters), Sona Taumalolo (Perpignan), Kane Thompson,

Prospects: Outsiders last season, favourites this season. That's the only difference heading into 2013. The bulk of the squad remains intact, and with coaches Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith still pulling the strings, it's hard seeing them crash and burn. It's going to be a real arm-wrestle to end the regular season in first or second place as they did last year. But a top six finish has to be on the cards for the Chiefs. Anything less than that has to be seen as a failure for the reigning champions.

22 Feb: v Highlanders – Away
2 March: v Cheetahs – Home
9 March: v Stormers – Away
15 March: v Kings – Away
22 March: v Highlanders – Home
30 March: v Blues – Home
13 April: v Reds – Home
19 April: v Waratahs – Away
27 April: v Sharks – Home
3 May: v Rebels – Away
10 May: v Force – Home
17 May: V Hurricanes – Away
24 May: v Crusaders – Home
28 June: v Hurricanes – Home
5 July: v Crusaders – Away
13 July: v Blues – Away