Chiefs on track to end well in 2014
Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie says it’s time his New Zealand Conference-leading team put their foot down in Super Rugby 2014.
And they will need to start that this weekend in Hamilton against archrivals the Crusaders.
The injury-hit back-to-back champions have yet to really hit form this season, only doing it in patches of games, but they have only lost one of seven matches and have continued to pick up competition points to be five points clear of the second-placed Highlanders with all Kiwi teams having now played seven matches.
‘‘It’s such an even comp, it’s a long comp and it’s not won in these early rounds but picking up points has always been crucial in giving you a bit of leeway later in the season,’’ Rennie said.
‘‘We’re on 24 now and have got ourselves in a reasonable position but it’s time for us to kick on now.
‘‘We’ve got a couple of big weeks with the Crusaders at home and the Brumbies away and they’ll be season-defining games I would think,’’ Rennie said.
This Saturday night the Chiefs host their fierce conference rivals, the Crusaders, at Waikato Stadium in what will be a pivotal Easter matchup in the battle to be the top New Zealand team and win an automatic semifinal berth.
‘‘Crusaders-Chiefs games have been huge the last couple of years, it will be [Tanerau Latimer’s] 100th game for the Chiefs, so there are a number of motivating factors for us to front,’’ Rennie said.
As if they needed any more players sidelined the Chiefs lost their stand- in captain and standout young All Black lock Brodie Retallick to concussion late in Saturday night’s 22-16 home win over the Rebels and he may miss some key games.
Rennie said Retallick didn’t remember what happened but seemed to recover well after the match. It will now depend on whether there are lingering symptoms and then passing the standard baseline test.
Hooker Mahonri Schwalger is a chance to be back from an eye procedure this week, while loose forward Liam Squire is another expected back from neck problems.
Winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma is also regarded as an outside chance to be available this week, but more likely for the Brumbies game in Canberra next week.
Backs James Lowe and Charlie Ngatai are also potentially going to be available for the Brumbies game.
Robbie Fruean is at least a month away after further heart treatment, Aaron Cruden is five to six weeks away and tighthead prop Ben Afeaki is still suffering from concussion symptoms and Robbie Robinson has gone for the season but not yet officially replaced in the squad.
On Saturday night the Chiefs got the good start that was missing on their overseas tour but instead of finishing strongly as they had in the past two weeks they faded badly for the final 50-odd minutes, again relying on their defence and Gareth Anscombe’s boot to get them home.
‘‘We were pretty happy with the first 20, we did everything we talked about doing, we were direct, played at the right end of the field and at 24 minutes we led 19-0 which was pretty good. ‘‘We weren’t too flash beyond that. ‘‘We’ll take the four points but it turned out to be a bit of an arm wrestle and we were hanging in by our teeth,’’ Rennie said.
From then on they failed to hang on to the ball long enough and string enough phases together to build pressure. ‘‘So we need to be a bit more clinical.’’ Augustine Pulu sparked a lot of the Chiefs’ impressive early attack with his sniping runs, giving them valuable go-forward, but missed a tackle when Rebels hooker Shota Horie scored just after halftime and was replaced by Tawera Kerr-Barlow as the battle between those continues for the halfback starting spot.
Half-break: Halfback Augustine Pulu sparked much of the Chiefs’ effective early attack from his darting runs against the Rebels.