Chiefs look for some sparks to light up gloom
The Chiefs have both questioned their headspace and desire as well as the way they are being refereed as their Super Rugby season hangs on a knife edge.
A little surprised the back-to-back champions are still mathematically in the hunt this year after winning just six of their 14 regular-season matches to date, Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said it was now all about getting the players' headspace right rather than flogging them at training.
The Chiefs have slipped to ninth place overall and last in the New Zealand Conference, albeit just six points covering all six teams, after their 29-25 loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday night.
It was their third loss on the trot, putting them into new territory under the Rennie regime, and they now need to rediscover what worked for them in their 2012 and 2013 championship campaigns. And they have to do it against two fellow Kiwi contenders - the Hurricanes and Blues.
"We've got to find that little bit of spark," Rennie said.
"We had enough ball, we had enough territory in that first half [against the Highlanders] to be well in front but again we weren't clinical enough, our scrum was put under a lot of pressure and we couldn't strike off that, we got penalised a bit in that facet of the game and they managed to break out a couple of times from deep in their area and that ended up being the difference."
But Rennie said most of those problems were about getting the players' heads right and getting better composure and awareness under pressure and not continuing to make errors in areas they put a lot of work into at training.
"I think we need to make sure we're enjoying what we're doing, that we've got a fair bit of clarity around what we're doing but a lot of it is simple stuff down to basic draw and pass, squaring up and decision making - that's been our downfall in the last few games and had a massive effect on the end result.
"We've been training for seven months so the boys understand what we've got to do, but it's just about making sure we've got that spark that we've had in the previous couple of years," he said.
The training week has been reorganised to make the sessions shorter and sharper to try and get the mix right.
"We've challenged the boys as to whether we've all got the same desire as we had in the first couple of years.
"The first year we won after the team had never won it before and the second year everyone told us we were lucky and wouldn't be able to do it again so there was high motivation and I guess we've challenged the boys as to whether we've got the same desire and desperation in our game at the moment and I guess they'll answer that on Friday night."
While they were still in the hunt thanks to their eight bonus points they would have to win both their last two games with bonus points to stay there and hope other conference derby results help them.
"Ultimately if we can't win at the weekend we don't deserve to be there anyway - we've dropped this many games.
"But if we can win at the weekend, we'd take a bit of confidence from that, even an ugly win, and then you've only got it right for one more week and you're in the mix."
One area outside his own team Rennie and his fellow coaches will address this week after taking it on the chin up until now is the seemingly extra scrutiny referees have put his side under this season and the mounting penalty counts that have resulted.
"Some of the things we get penalised for in possession are just over the top, inaccurate and frustrating. The opposition can do the same thing a minute later and not get pinged for it.
"We've certainly got a lot of questions in and around how we've been reffed, especially around the breakdown so we'll follow up on that this week."
There are injury concerns for standout All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick who left the field with a hip injury against the Highlanders, while back-up tighthead prop Josh Hohneck has had his season ended by a broken right thumb.
Retallick won't train today and will be reassessed during the week. Nick Barrett will step up in Hohneck's place and Bay of Plenty prop Pingi Talaapitaga and Waikato lock Luke Katene have been brought in as cover.