Chiefs' Super Rugby campaign now in tatters
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie insists his side's season is not over but on the evidence from their 33-17 defeat to the Waratahs, it all but is.
The paramedics were almost called at halftime for the ailing Chiefs after the Waratahs all but sucked the life out of them at Yarrow Stadium on Saturday.
They might indeed be called to revive the Chiefs' campaign unless something significant happens.
The Chiefs were simply monstered by a bigger, more determined side that produced the intensity needed to win big Super Rugby matches.
The defending champions were damn lucky they were down by only 10 points at the break, testament to their courage and determination on defence.
But there was no hiding the fact they had no real answer to the way the Waratahs controlled possession through patient phases, the way they sealed the ball off effectively and stretched the Chiefs, particularly in the midfield.
There was also plenty to admire about how the Chiefs came back to take the lead in the second half on the back of two tries to replacement Bundee Aki.
But in the end the toll of tackling and defending against a huge Waratahs side was evident as the Sydneysiders finished the stronger over the crucial last 10 minutes, denying the Chiefs what could turn out to be a vital bonus point.
The Chiefs were not helped by an indifferent display from captain and playmaker Aaron Cruden, who labelled his 80 minutes the worst in his career with the franchise.
However, Rennie remained optimistic he and his fellow coaches could find a formula to get their side into the playoffs.
It will be a big ask.
"We've got three local derbies left and we need to win them all but there is still a chance to qualify." If they are to do what appears almost impossible, they have to hope the international window freshens Cruden up because his side need him to be at his best.
Rennie appeared to have a legitimate reason to be annoyed at how referee Chris Pollock allowed the Waratahs to stand on the Chiefs' side at the breakdown pretending to be a tackler.
"It's not uncommon but it denies your clean-out guys a chance to clear out the threat over the ball because you have those guys standing in front [of the ruck].
"Our guys were passing that information on to Polly [Pollock] because we were getting that information on to the field.
"But we're not using it as an excuse because we got our nose in front by playing at the right end of the field and finding some space in behind but we needed to take the opportunities to find that space and apply pressure to them.
"They looked a bit suspect when the pressure was on but we were not able to play at the right end of the field."
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika was rightfully delighted by his team's performance in front of a crowd of 10,740.
"I don't think it's just the fact of winning in New Zealand, whether it's home or away, to beat the Chiefs, and I said it before the game, they're a team we admire for the way they work, their hard work and their effort," he said.
"For us, we aim to be as good as that around that work ethic and I think tonight we matched them and even worked a little bit harder and that got us home."
They did, without doubt, with their efforts on defence quite staggering at times.
Cheika's side are genuine title contenders if they can repeat it, despite their history.
He is getting the best out of veterans such as Adam Ashley-Cooper, who was superb at times on Saturday as he repeatedly tested the Chiefs' defence, stretching it to near breaking point more than once.
The Chiefs will now be left to stew over their poor efforts in the past fortnight, which have seen them put themselves under huge pressure.
Whether Rennie can deliver the difference needed will be found out in a month's time.
Taranaki Daily News