Chiefs only one win away from turnaround
Coaches and players alike agree their frustration at poor results is not helping but say belief still there, Evan Pegden writes.
Wayne Smith figures the Chiefs need nine points fromaaaaaaa their final two games in order to have a shot at making the Super Rugby playoffs.
But the Chiefs’ assistant coach admits the desperate situation the Super Rugby champions for the last two seasons find themselves in is not what they are used to, having lost their last three matches to slump to ninth overall and last in the New Zealand Conference, albeit just six points off the conference lead.
Veterans of the team who have been there prior to 2012 know what it is like to have seasons where it has been a battle just to get near the playoffs, but for those just involved in the previous two campaigns this is something new.
‘‘It’s somewhere we don’t want to be, but we’ve got to show that on Friday night [against the Hurricanes at Waikato Stadium],’’ Smith said.
‘‘We can talk all we like about it but we just need to do, to get out there and prove to everyone that we’ve still got it. There’s still the belief there.’’
Fullback Gareth Anscombe, in just his second season with the Chiefs, admitted the rut the team now found themselves in left the players frustrated and had undermined their confidence.
‘‘Sometimes the harder you try the worse it gets,’’ Anscombe said.
‘‘It’s easy to get down and get a little bit negative but it’s important we stay positive and if we have a good training week and go through our processes right we are a good enough side at home to get the job done.
‘‘Our season is still alive so we’ve still got to have that belief and be positive and if we do that and have the right attitude we’ve got a chance against the Canes at home.’’
If the Chiefs can beat the Hurricanes they stay in the hunt for a playoff spot, even though they know they are also at the mercy of other results, but a loss will end all hope.
Smith said they were trying to introduce a bit more fun to training and preparation this week to get a few endorphins surging through the players’ bodies.
‘‘It’s our track this week, in front of our people against a team that gave us a hiding last time out and if you can’t get up for that you won’t get up for anything,’’ he said.
The margins between teams had become so small and while the Chiefs had been almost cult-like the previous couple of seasons with an obsession for winning some other sides had copied their strategy this year.
‘‘So you drop slightly and other teams raise their game and you get the results we have had.
‘‘Again at the weekend [against the Highlanders] we could have won that game, needed to win it but we didn’t quite have it in us in the end.’’
The players were still working hard and there was still a lot of excitement and comradeship.
‘‘We’ve just got to reflect that on the field. We’ve got to make sure everyone leaves the stadium on Friday night saying ’yes, the Chiefs have really got that mana, got that spirit’.’’
But just what precisely is missing from the Chiefs’ performances in 2014 is more difficult to quantify, according to Smith.
‘‘Outcome is always a complex thing and it’s hard to put your finger on any one thing, but what I do know is that it can turn around really quickly.
‘‘I’ve been in a Crusaders team that did that; don’t know why it turned around but it did and went from being hopeless to being unbeatable in a short space of time so I know it’s only going to take one good result and we’ll be back on the horse, but it’s getting pretty late in the season.’’
Smith said the 45-8 thrashing at the hands of the Hurricanes in Wellington five weeks ago was a huge motivating factor for him as a coach going into the return match at Waikato Stadium this Friday night and he was sure it was the same for the players.
‘‘It challenges your own personal pride in what you’re doing so I think it is a huge game from that perspective.’’
The Chiefs have struggled to impose themselves physically on the competition as much as they did the previous two years, their set-piece and breakdown work not as dominant, the latter hit hard by refereeing interpretations, and that has affected their options on attack and at times caught them out on defence.
Veteran of 100-plus matches Tanerau Latimer said it was not for lack of trying or want on the part of the whole team and that was the frustrating part.
‘‘We’ve been trying to find the answers for the past however many weeks and we haven’t been happy with our performances,’’ Latimer said.