How Big Game At ANZ Sta­dium Won

CHIEFS OUT­SMARTED CRU­SADERS BY RE­AL­IS­ING BACK TO BA­SICS ONLY WAY TO PLAY IN WET CON­DI­TIONS IN SUVA

Fiji Sun - - Sport -

Even in a com­pe­ti­tion as bizarre as Su­per Rugby, where the Storm­ers, a team nine points be­hind the Cru­saders, can be ahead of them on the ta­ble, the Chiefs play­ing a home game in Suva stands out. When the match was an­nounced last year, in the warm glow of post World Cup ju­bi­la­tion, it didn’t at­tract a great deal of at­ten­tion. A joint ven­ture be­tween the Chiefs, a Dunedin com­pany be­hind a tick­et­ing agency and the Fi­jian gov­ern­ment for a Su­per Rugby game in Suva seemed, at the time, noth­ing more than a pleas­ant, sunny di­ver­sion, fea­tur­ing teams that fin­ished fifth (the Chiefs) and sev­enth (the Cru­saders) in the 2015 com­pe­ti­tion. In fact the game last Fri­day night not only matched the top two New Zealand sides, but may also prove to be the most im­por­tant roundrobin game this year. There was plenty that was un­ex­pected.

Easy to for­get that trop­i­cal par­adises may stay warm, but they can also be very, very wet. The Chiefs took on board the fact rain was lash­ing down, and, for rea­sons that will no doubt be grimly ex­am­ined this week, the Cru­saders played as if it was a sunny day. In blunt terms, the Chiefs out­smarted the Cru­saders by re­al­is­ing that with the ball like soap and the sur­face slip­pery, back to ba­sics isn’t the best way to win, it’s the only way.

The process for the Chiefs re­quired, as it of­ten has in past games be­tween the two teams, in­tense phys­i­cal­ity.

Please step for­ward Brodie Re­tal­lick. The abid­ing mem­ory from the game will al­ways be his sen­sa­tional 30-me­tre run, which in­cluded the best im­i­ta­tion of a David Cam­pese goose step ever per­formed by a 121kg lock. But what was ac­tu­ally even more im­pres­sive was the strength and ex­plo­sive­ness it took for him to wrench the ball away from a Cru­saders for­ward who seemed to have it in full con­trol. The snatch and grab was so swift and un­ex­pected that when Re­tal­lick was 10 me­tres away with the ball, there were still Cru­saders yelling and point­ing to be­wil­dered team-mates to give chase. And no­body is bet­ter suited than Sam Cane to the blan­ket, smoth­er­ing de­fence the Chiefs at their best use to drain the will from their op­po­nents.

Cane lives by the fear­less at­ti­tude that prompted Richie McCaw to say, af­ter the grind­ing, des­per­ate, se­cond half of the 2011 World Cup Fi­nal against France, “Jeez, that was fun,” and mean it. The tem­per­a­ture in Suva might have been a lazy 20 de­grees higher than on the frost-bit­ten Re­poroa fields where Cane learned his footy as a school­boy but, on a night when close, phys­i­cal con­tact was more im­por­tant than rang­ing wide, he was dy­namic. Add in, as in re­cent times you must with the Chiefs, the in­flu­ence of Stephen Don­ald. He wasn’t able to break the Cru­saders line the way he burst through Welsh de­fend­ers, but his tack­ling was in­spi­ra­tional, and be­tween the ex­pe­ri­ence and shrewd­ness he and Aaron Cru­den pro­vided, the Chiefs had their tac­tics for the night sorted. By com­par­i­son the Cru­saders played most of the match as if the ball was dry, and the field was hard.

Chang­ing di­rec­tion was so dif­fi­cult that even Is­rael Dagg, who showed in the tests with Wales he’s back to his ex­cit­ing best, could hardly evade a tackle.

All is far from lost for the Cru­saders, as long as they play their last two games against the Rebels and the Hur­ri­canes as though their ti­tle chances de­pend on them. That shouldn’t be hard, as they ac­tu­ally do.

It would be as­ton­ish­ing if the Chiefs didn’t belt the Reds on Fri­day, which could mean the last game in round robin for them, against the High­landers in Dunedin, may be, by wildest chance, a thrilling, cru­cial, fi­nale to a com­pe­ti­tion as dis­jointed and il­log­i­cal as a Boris John­son speech.

Photo: Paulini Rat­u­lailai

Chiefs pivot Aaron Cru­den is well looked af­ter by the Cru­saders at the ANZ Sta­dium in Suva last Fri­day.

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