Chiefs set for tough challenge from Waratahs
A few weeks ago the Chiefs pegged the Hurricanes and Waratahs as their two toughest opponents lying in wait for the last five matches of their 2014 Super Rugby campaign.
The Hurricanes thrashed them 45-8 in a humiliating result in Wellington last weekend and this afternoon they face the Waratahs, who have since gone to the top of the Australian Conference after winning three matches on the trot, including one against the Hurricanes.
Lose this one and the Chiefs will lose too much traction in the close New Zealand Conference battle to be realistic about winning the conference as they have done the last two seasons on the way to back-to-back titles.
Numerous little flaws in their game all seemed to come together in one performance last week but they still managed to win a lot of ball and create a lot of opportunities.
Their set-piece and breakdown efforts have been inconsistent this season with the lineouts a real worry, which hasn't helped, but bad decision-making and inaccurate finishing have been their biggest downfall, alongside ill discipline.
The Chiefs are the most penalised team in this year's Super Rugby, averaging 13.2 penalties a game, and have also conceded the most yellow cards as referees have put them under a seemingly lopsided microscope.
"A lot of teams try not to commit anyone [to the breakdowns] so they've got a lot more on their feet for the next phase and they almost wait till we've gone past and then sneak in and try and steal a bit of pill, so we've talked about that and the adjustments you need to make, especially when you play different types of teams," Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said.
"But there's no doubt people have studied us and had a good look, including the refs."
But there was actually a lot of good work done there last week that was not rewarded thanks to lack of finish, something Rennie blames on lack of communication and vision to recognise the mis-matches and make use of them.
There are also plenty of statistical areas of the game where the Chiefs are still leading the pack and they have to get the rest of their game right so they can utilise those clear strengths.
Those include more offloads (13.5) per game, the best tackling success rate (88 per cent) and fewer missed tackles (13.3 a game) than any other side.
The Waratahs have a big forward pack and a dangerous backline and unlike previous seasons they seem to be coming back into form rather than fading.
They have made more carries (133) and metres (518) per match than any other side and have the second best defence in terms of points conceded per game (19) behind the Sharks.
Rennie said his side just weren't tuned in enough in the crucial part of the game last week and it hurt them.
"We've certainly got the abililty to score against any side if we can get quick ball and so on so that's going to be important this week," he said.
He believes the Waratahs are a very similar team to the Hurricanes but with a bigger forward pack.
"They've got threats all over the place so we're aware of that and we're going to have to do a better job than we did last week against the Hurricanes."
AT A GLANCE
CHIEFS: Tom Marshall, Dwayne Sweeney, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden (c), Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Liam Squire, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Matt Symons, Ben Tameifuna, Nathan Harris, Jamie Mackintosh. Reserves: Mahonri Schwalger, Pauliasi Manu, Josh Hohneck, Mike Fitzgerald, Tanerau Latimer, Brad Weber, Gareth Anscombe, Bundee Aki.
WARATAHS: Israel Folau, Alofa Alofa, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Rob Horne, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Dave Dennis (c), Kane Douglas, Jacques Potgieter, Paddy Ryan, Tatafu Polota Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Hugh Roach, Jeremy Tilse, Sekope Kepu, Will Skelton, Stephen Hoiles, Brendan McKibbin, Jono Lance, Matt Carraro.
Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)
Kickoff: 4.35pm today, Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth