By Daniel Gilhooly
Chiefs halfback Brendon Leonard is set to miss the start of the Super Rugby season after suffering a cheekbone injury during their pre-season match against the Highlanders.
The former All Blacks No.9 is believed to have suffered a fracture and an initial diagnosis suggests he will be sidelined for four-six weeks, meaning he will miss at least the first two games of the Chiefs' title defence starting this month.
Leonard, who played the last of his 13 Tests in 2009, has been dogged by injury for several seasons.
He was largely employed off the reserve bench during the Chiefs' championship-winning campaign last year, leapfrogged by Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who made his All Blacks debut in November.
Chiefs medical staff are still assessing which other players won't be fit to cross the Tasman for Friday's pre-season match against a strong Reds outfit on the Sunshine Coast.
Niggles were picked up during the impressive 36-14 defeat of the Highlanders in Taupo on Saturday. Winger Lelia Masaga didn't play at all due to a knee complaint.
Captain Craig Clarke wants his team to improve this week in their cleanout and scrum work but is otherwise content with their year-opening performance.
"We're pretty happy to have a scoreline like that against the Highlanders, pre-season or not," he told NZ Newswire.
"In saying that, we're pretty realistic about it all. They travelled up on the day and had a lot of their guys missing."
Clarke believes the Chiefs take a more intense approach to pre-season games than some teams as it is a valuable learning period.
"We try to play at a pretty high standard. It's not full intensity but you want to be pretty close so guys who haven't played that level of footy can actually experience something close enough to the standard of a comp game."