Gifford: Clever play carries Chiefs to victory

PHIL GIFFORD
Last updated 22:50 05/07/2014

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OPINION: The Chiefs stay alive, thanks to rugby smarts.

In a game against the Hurricanes where you might have thought stress could have resulted in them playing in a red mist, they out-thought the Canes on almost every front.

Aaron Cruden is a terrific tactical kicker. You might have expected him to steer his side around the paddock with his boot.

But the Chiefs have a brains trust in coaches Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith that's as shrewd as any in the country, and, in Smith's case, as experienced as any coach in the world.

The Chiefs treated the ball as if it was gold, the Canes as if it was the wrapper off a Big Mac.

So for every time Beauden Barrett kicked back to the Chiefs, the Chiefs took the ball in hand, and drilled their way forward, running off the breakdowns.

It helped that the Chiefs have the perfect weapon for close-quarter struggle in Brodie Retallick. He's massive, 2.04m, he's mobile, and he has a streak of mean a yard wide, so it may not be altogether a surprise to older rugby fans to discover he has the DNA of former All Black prop John Ashworth, his uncle, in his blood.

At breakdowns the Chiefs use Retallick as a 121kg road block. He teeters on the edge of the offside line, but, like the rest of the Chiefs' forward pack against the Canes, his discipline is so good he rarely attracts the attention of referees.

The Canes have highly skilled loose forwards in Brad Shields, Jack Lam and Ardie Savea, but their talents are best expressed in running the ball, not so much in the ugly, cruel business of scrapping for it on the ground.

Making sure the game didn't open up into a test of who could run the ball the best and fastest was crucial to the success of the Chiefs.

In Julian Savea, Cory Jane and Matt Proctor, the Canes have lethal attacking potential, but on Friday night they spent so much of the game as spectators they might as well have been issued with scarves and flags to wave.

Long after it had become obvious kicking long to the Chiefs was pointless, Beauden Barrett kept booting hopefully downfield. His punts often went too far, but when he did find his range there was an odd lack of a chasing line.

With the Canes' wounds partly self inflicted, the Chiefs poured on the hurt, stuck to the gun and run plan, racking up pick and goes at a ratio of two to one in the first half.

An ace up the sleeve was the injection of Augustine Pulu, the dynamic Steelers halfback, who created panic in the Canes ranks every time he ran.

A weird sideshow was the officiating of referee Nick Briant. A losing coach will always feel the ref could hae done things better, and Mark Hammett did, but it has to be said Briant seemed jittery and erratic for a lot of the game. The bizarre apogee was reached when he awarded a try to Hadleigh Parkes without reference to the television match official. If he had the TMO would have seen clear space between Parkes' hand as he lost the ball diving for the line and ruled an obvious no try.

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Have all the Chiefs' problems been solved with the victory? Not really, because, unlike the last two years, it's most unlikely, if they do make the playoffs, they'll have the benefit of playing at home.

But the way they beat the Canes should be a reminder that while passion is essential at the highest levels, it's a hell of a help to think more clearly too.

- Sunday Star Times

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