Chiefs on track to end well in 2014

Matamata Chronicle - - Sport -

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.

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