All Blacks, Gallagher Chiefs and Waikato halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow will bid adieu to New Zealand at the end of 2017. The 26-year-old has signed a three-year deal with French Top 14 Club La Rochelle, where he will link up with former All Blacks Victor Vito and Jason Eaton.

“I’m excited to announce that the next chapter of my rugby career will be with La Rochelle in France. It was an extremely hard decision to make, but I feel it is the right one for my family and myself. I’ve always wanted to play rugby in New Zealand and to represent teams like Waikato and the Chiefs which is where my family comes from. It was a childhood dream of mine to become an All Black and it has been a privilege to represent my country.

“Over the past couple of months I’ve thought long and hard about going overseas. I had really good contact with the Chiefs and the All Blacks throughout the process, but ultimately the opportunity to play rugby with La Rochelle and experience the French culture with my family was the right decision for me. At this point in time, I’m 100% focused on helping the Chiefs to another Super Rugby title and making the best of every moment I have left to play rugby in New Zealand” said Kerr-Barlow.

Melbourne-born Kerr-Barlow arrived in New Zealand in 2004 as a 13-year-old and attended Hamilton Boys High School. The hard-working halfback made his debut for Waikato in 2009 and in 2010 he was part of the New Zealand Under 20 side that won the Junior World Championship in Argentina.

Kerr-Barlow made his Investec Super Rugby debut for the Gallagher Chiefs in 2011 against the Brumbies. Since then the clinical number nine has become a mainstay for the Gallagher Chiefs, dotting down seven times in his 70 appearances to date.

Gallagher Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said: “Tawera is one of the nicest guys you’ll meet and has been a pleasure to work with. Caring and competitive are two traits that stand out, but it’s his work ethic and leadership around defence that makes him world-class. Tawera is in the form of his life, we wish him well.”

Tawera Kerr-Barlow is Gallagher Chief #198

The Gallagher Chiefs have won their third straight New Zealand derby to continue their perfect start to the season, beating the defending champion Hurricanes 26-18 at FMG Stadium Waikato.

 

In atrocious conditions, with heavy rain falling throughout most of the match, the Chiefs produced a disciplined and controlled performance to secure another win and send them to the top of the Investec Super Rugby table.

 

Both teams made a positive start to the match with plenty of continuity on attack in the pouring rain, highlighting the talent on display across the park, but the opening minutes also saw an unfortunate shoulder injury to Tim Nanai-Williams which gave an early entrance to Stephen Donald.

 

Shortly after, the first scoring opportunity of the match came for the Hurricanes and first five Beauden Barrett was on target with a penalty to put the visitors in front.

 

A strong response from the Chiefs saw them swing onto attack and, after turning down an easy shot at goal of their own, they pressured the Hurricanes attack for several minutes before lock Brodie Retallick barged his way over the line to score.

 

Fullback Damian McKenzie nailed the tricky conversion to give the Chiefs a 7-3 lead at the end of the first quarter, with the try coming just after Ardie Savea was yellow carded for repeat infringements from the Hurricanes near their own goal line. 

 

Soon after Barrett struck his second penalty of the evening but the Hurricanes were then briefly reduced to 13 players with Michael Fatialofa sent to the bin for a no-arms tackle.

 

The ill-discipline led to good field position for the Chiefs which they eventually turned into three more points from the boot of McKenzie.

 

Late in the half the physicality of the match really began to show with several big tackles and collisions setting the tone for a big second half, but not before the Chiefs landed a huge blow.

 

In the final play of the half a superbly weighted chip kick over the defence from halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow off the back of a scrum gave Toni Pulu a chance, and the big winger out sprinted the defence to slide over for the try.

 

McKenzie was again on target from out wide with the extra two points to take the lead out to 17-6 at the break.

 

Buoyed by their strong finish to the first half, the Gallagher Chiefs came out with a spring in their step to start the second spell and, after 10 minutes of territorial dominance, McKenzie chipped over another three pointer to extend the lead.

 

The Hurricanes slowly began to get their hands on the ball more but the Chiefs defence was up to the task, and the home side went past the 60 minute mark without conceding a try for the third straight week.

 

Finally, their line was breached when Hurricanes halfback TJ Perenara did well to force his way over the line off the back of a maul to get his side back into the contest.

 

The try sprung the visitors into action and suddenly they looked dangerous every time they touched the ball, but the hard to crack Chiefs defence didn’t take long to tighten up once more.

 

With the Hurricanes chasing the game, McKenzie was able to add his third penalty with just over five minutes remaining to continue his perfect night off the kicking tee.

 

Chiefs Number 8 Michael Leitch was then sent to the bin for a reckless tackle and a desperate Hurricanes side were rewarded for throwing caution to the wind with a well worked try to wing Julian Savea.

 

Their second try put them in bonus point territory and gave them one final play to snatch an unlikely win but a Stephen Donald turnover halted their late charge.

 

The resulting penalty gave McKenzie the chance to deny the Hurricanes their bonus point and he made no mistake as the visitors were forced to head back to Wellington with nothing to show for their efforts.

 

Gallagher Chiefs 26 (Brodie Retallick, Toni Pulu tries; Damian McKenzie 2 cons, 4 pens) Hurricanes 18 (TJ Perenara, Julian Savea tries; Beauden Barrett con, 2 pens) HT: 17-6.

Two unbeaten New Zealand teams, 80 minutes and a point to prove. The stage is set for an epic showdown this Friday when the Gallagher Chiefs host the Hurricanes at FMG Stadium Waikato.

Gallagher Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie is meeting the challenge head on, naming a physical and experienced lineup to go to work on Friday night. Leading the charge is co-captain Sam Cane, who is primed to make his first appearance of 2017 having fully recovered from the ankle injury he sustained while playing for the All Blacks in November 2016.

In addition to Cane, there are four other changes to the starting fifteen that defeated the Blues 41-26 last Friday night in Hamilton. Hard-working Taranaki loose forward Mitchell Brown will start at blindside flanker, replacing Liam Messam who is being rested following two massive 80-minute performances. There are three changes to the backline with Anton Lienert-Brown shifting to second five-eighth, Tim Nanai-Williams will wear jersey 13 this week and Toni Pulu claims the right wing.

It is a special night for 24-year old Bay of Plenty hooker Sebastian Siataga who could make his Investec Super Rugby debut off the bench. With the return of Cane, Lachlan Boshier moves to the reserves. Veteran back Stephen Donald has been named at 22, his first appearance for the Gallagher Chiefs this season.

The Gallagher Chiefs team to play the Hurricanes at 7.35pm on Friday is:

1.            Kane Hames (11)

2.            Hika Elliot (106)

3.            Nepo Laulala (2)

4.            Dominic Bird (13)

5.            Brodie Retallick (73)

6.            Mitchell Brown (4)

7.            Sam Cane (co-captain) (82)

8.            Michael Leitch (24)

9.            Tawera Kerr-Barlow (69)

10.         Aaron Cruden (co-captain) (75)

11.         James Lowe (39)

12.         Anton Lienert-Brown (26)

13.         Tim Nanai-Williams (79)

14.         Toni Pulu (15)

15.         Damian McKenzie (35)    

RESERVES:

16.         Sabastian Siataga**

17.         Siegfried Fisi’ihoi (13)

18.         Atu Moli (13)

19.         Taleni Seu (20)

20.         Lachlan Boshier (10)

21.         Jonathan Taumateine (2)

22.         Stephen Donald (91)

23.         Shaun Stevenson (9)

() = Gallagher Chiefs caps in brackets

**denotes Investec Super Rugby debut

Unavailable for selection: Brad Weber, Mitchell Graham, Nathan Harris, James Tucker, Glen Fisiiahi, Chase Tiatia, Michael Allardice, Charlie Ngatai, Sam McNicol and Liam Polwart. 

Exciting Gallagher Chiefs wing James Lowe will depart New Zealand at the end of the year to join Leinster Rugby in Ireland. At 24-years of age, Lowe is in the form of his career with three tries to his name in the opening two rounds of the Gallagher Chiefs 2017 Investec Super Rugby campaign.  

 

Lowe explained his reasons for joining Leinster in a heartfelt statement.

 

“It is with a heavy heart that today I announce I will be leaving New Zealand at the end of the year to play rugby abroad. I have taken up a 3 year contract with Leinster rugby, based in Dublin, Ireland. This decision has not been an easy one. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be an All Black, but at this stage of my life and for my future, I feel this is the best decision for me. Leinster are a very competitive side and I am looking forward to challenging myself in another professional environment. 

 

“Like I have mentioned I leave New Zealand with a heavy heart - I am a very passionate Tasman and Chiefs representative which made my decision to leave even harder. I leave behind great friends, rivalries, my family and most of all the public who have supported me throughout my short professional career in NZ. I am not ruling out returning to NZ rugby. At 24 I feel my best years are still to come. But for this stage of my life and with an eye to the future, I have to set myself and my future family up so they can have every opportunity in life to succeed” said Lowe. 

 

Gallagher Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said: 

 

“James has made a massive contribution to the Chiefs over the past four seasons. His unique skillset, leadership and attacking mindset makes him one of the best left wingers in the world. It is a smart signing by Leinster. James is a top man, great in the community and has been a pleasure to work with.”

 

James Lowe made his Investec Super Rugby debut for the Gallagher Chiefs against the Crusaders in 2014. Renowned for his powerful left boot and evasive attacking style, Lowe has scored 18 tries in his 39 appearances for the Gallagher Chiefs. The Maori All Blacks representative showed his resilience as a teenager after being diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, a condition that left him bedridden. The affliction could not stop Lowe from realising his childhood dream of becoming a professional rugby player and he now works as an ambassador for Arthritis New Zealand to inspire young kiwi’s to achieve their goals.  

 

James Lowe is Chief #236.