The last time the Chiefs went to Canberra to play the Brumbies in April they came back reeling from a 41-23 thumping, but coach Dave Rennie says it will be different this time.
Having finished fifth overall in the Super Rugby round-robin following the weekend's results, the Chiefs must play the in-form Brumbies at the latter's fortress on Saturday night in a qualifier match for the first time.
But Rennie believes the odds that were stacked heavily against the Chiefs last time they went there for an Anzac Day regular season showdown were more balanced this time.
"The last time we played in Canberra we had a six-day week [to prepare] with the travel thrown in [which takes most of a day], so having eight days this time is a lot better.
"It gives us a chance to train but also give the boys a day off this week," Rennie said.
The last time the Chiefs played in Canberra they were also without several injured players, including Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Tanerau Latimer, but apart from those already gone for the season they may only be without midfield back Charlie Ngatai this week.
Ngatai's shoulder is coming right quickly but Rennie said he was doubtful for this week, while hooker Mahonri Schwalger is expected to recover from a dislocated shoulder to be available for the trip.
Rennie said there were a number of things that worked against them in Canberra last time in addition to what in hindsight had been a disrupted preparation.
"They were really up for it. Obviously they'd had a week off [for their bye], it was Anzac Day and they had a special jersey for it and there was a lot of talk about payback for the final here last year, so it was a pretty big occasion for them.
"And they probably coped with it better than we did."
This time the chance to play in a semifinal provided equal motivation for both sides.
While all teams were obviously stronger on their home grounds, Rennie said the long-range weather forecast for Canberra was similar to the one for Hamilton and he didn't think it would be difficult for the Chiefs to quickly feel at home there.
"If we've got aspirations of winning this thing we're going to have to win all three games away from home probably so we'll just treat it as the same sized bit of dirt as we've got at home."
Rennie said the showdown with the Brumbies in Canberra was "predictable" and his team had already made plans around that, although had they had to travel to Durban to take on the Sharks if the Highlanders had upset the Crusaders on Saturday night they would have left at 11am yesterday.
"This gives us a little bit more time to spend at home," he said.
The Chiefs are due to fly to Australia on Wednesday in what is a 12-hour trip from Hamilton to Canberra via bus and two plane flights.
They were in the gym yesterday, train today, have most of tomorrow off with just some light training planned, travel Wednesday, have a full day of training on Thursday and a captain's run on Friday.
The Chiefs are in the playoffs thanks to their hard-fought 11-8 victory over the Blues at Eden Park last Friday night and their fifth place is also thanks to the Highlanders' 34-8 capitulation to the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday night.
"The difference between the two sides was that one side had about 70 per cent of the pill and couldn't score," Rennie said of Blues coach John Kirwan's claim that the difference was Liam Messam's intercept try.
And the Chiefs will look to replicate that defence and try and win another arm wrestle in Canberra.
"Obviously we haven't played in this round before, but we're really excited to be part of it.
"Probably all the talk a couple of weeks ago was that our hopes were gone, but we started to pick up a couple of wins against Kiwi sides, which are always tough, and we're rapt to be part of it because we now get to prepare for another game and we just have to pull out a big 80 each week," Rennie said.
- Waikato Times
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