Chiefs must now battle for a home semifinal

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:00 04/06/2012
Michael Fitzgerald
GRAHAME COX/Fairfax NZ
NZ CONFERENCE DOGFIGHT: Chiefs lock Michael Fitzgerald gets punched by Blues No 8 Peter Saili, after earlier throwing his own blows.

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The Chiefs are virtually secure in the Super Rugby playoffs with three regular season matches left to be played.

But despite a four-point lead at the top of the table and a seven-point cushion atop the New Zealand Conference, they are far from shoo-ins for home advantage.

Mathematically, the sixth, seventh and eighth-placed Hurricanes, Sharks and Highlanders, who all have their second bye (worth four points) still to come, could catch the Chiefs if the Chiefs score no further points, but the Chiefs still have to play the two Kiwi sides.

The real battle will be for home advantage in the semifinals and final with the final not having been won by the away team since 2007 and only once – by the Crusaders in 2000 – by a visiting team from outside the country where the final was played.

The Chiefs will come back from the three-week break for the international window, which sidelines all teams for the same period, and play the Highlanders and Hurricanes away and the red-hot Crusaders in between at home in Hamilton.

The Hurricanes and Crusaders are both now in form, while the Highlanders beat the Chiefs in the season-opener and will have the benefit of home advantage at Dunedin's covered Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Meanwhile, the second-placed Stormers are poised to steal top seeding for the playoffs if the Chiefs falter as their remaining games back in South Africa are against the Lions (home), Cheetahs (away) and Rebels (home) – all from the bottom six on the table.

The Chiefs players are all back at Ruakura today to go through individual training plans to ensure they (apart from five or six All Blacks) come back from their fortnight's break to a training camp fitter and stronger.

"They've got a bit of work to do but in a different environment which will freshen them up mentally and then we've got a little camp in Rotorua where we'll reassess goals and by then we'll know where everyone sits and get a bit of clarity around what we need to do," Rennie said.

Saturday night's skipper, Liam Messam, believed that despite the topsy-turvy nature of the match the Chiefs had shown they could handle pressure.

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- Waikato Times

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