Chiefs need to finish with victory at Eden Park

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:00 07/07/2014
Mahonri Schwalger
Getty Images
Mahonri Schwalger of the Chiefs takes a charge at the Hurricanes' defence.

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Beat the Blues at Eden Park this Friday night and the Chiefs are into the Super Rugby playoffs for the third year in a row - the equation is as simple as that.

The Chiefs' 24-16 victory over the Hurricanes at Waikato Stadium on Friday night and subsequent results in the penultimate round over the weekend have left the defending champions in seventh place overall.

There are only six teams who can finish ahead of the Chiefs if the latter win in Auckland and two of those teams - the Brumbies and Force who are level with the Chiefs on 40 points - play each other in Canberra this weekend.

The Hurricanes have finished their regular season on 41 points, having the bye this week to finish with, but the Chiefs can't afford to get into a tie-breaker situation as the first method used is number of wins where the Chiefs trail all the contenders except the Blues with only seven victories this season.

A win over the Blues and either 44 or 45 points would suggest a likely scenario that the Chiefs will finish sixth and face an away qualifier match the following weekend against the third-ranked team or lowest ranked conference winner.

That would likely mean getting ready for a trip to either the South Island, South Africa or Sydney.

However, consistency has not been the hallmark of this year's Chiefs in quite the way it took them to Super Rugby titles the previous two seasons and they need to put together another powerful performance this week after snapping a three-game losing streak last Friday.

And they have to do it away from home, although there is never any need for extra motivation for the Chiefs when taking on neighbouring rivals the Blues.

Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said the performance against the Hurricanes had been "quite a few notches up" on what had happened the previous five or six games.

"The attitude was great, there was a lot of intensity, we created a lot of opportunities and played the game at the right end of the field.

"We probably should have won by more and got four tries, but we're happy with our step up," Rennie said.

The plan was to go through the middle of the Hurricanes with their big ball carriers and such was the urgency and abrasiveness in carrying that out that it worked, while a much improved lineout enabled them to get their driving game going for probably the first time this season.

The Chiefs will need to do more of the same against a Blues team that won't yield easily in defence with a bigger backline to get through and some hard-nosed forwards such as All Blacks Jerome Kaino, Keven Mealamu, Patrick Tuipulotu and skipper Luke Braid.

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Their defence will also need to be at least as good again if not better against the powerful Blues runners.

They need veteran hooker Mahonri Schwalger to last as well as he did against the Canes, albeit with a number of injury stoppages, as his lineout throwing and hard-nosed approach is vital to the Chiefs' effectiveness.

Rennie said the Blues, who lost to the Crusaders on Saturday night in Christchurch to stay on 36 points, had been impressive the week before against the Force in Perth.

"We had talked about the Hurricanes and how if they managed to get in the top six everyone would be nervous and I think likewise with the Blues.

"They've got big names who are playing pretty well, but if we can have the same sort of intensity as we had tonight then we're in with a show," Rennie said on Saturday night.

Second five-eighth Charlie Ngatai left the field injured against the Hurricanes but the problem was described by Rennie as a "stinger" and is not expected to keep him out this week.

That then begs the question as to whether Rennie and his coaching team stick mostly with the starting XV that produced the goods last Friday night or whether they continue to tinker with the backline.

They will be mindful of the size of the Blues' backline but if Ngatai is fit then they may be best advised to stick with the midfield combination of him and Tim Nanai-Williams.

- Stuff

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