Chiefs assistant coach Wayne Smith says the team have proved that they're worthy of hosting a home semi-final on Friday night and the challenge now is living up to that.
Up until a couple of weeks ago the Chiefs looked to be the red-hot favourites to win their first ever Super Rugby title. But back-to-back losses to the Crusaders and Hurricanes has caused worries that all the good work in the first part of the season may come to nothing.
However, despite those defeats, the Chiefs' record of 12 wins and four losses over the season is an impressive one. After a couple of years in which the fans had drifted away from Waikato Stadium they are back out in force again and the "sold out" signs should be up again on Friday night.
Smith says he has loved being involved in what the Chiefs have achieved this season.
"It has been fantastic and I'm proud to be a part of it," Smith told Sunday News.
"We've got a young team and we've got a lot of guys who haven't played at this level before.
"They have shown a lot of spirit and we deserve to be where we are, they've worked bloody hard all year.
"We deserved to have a home semifinal and now we've got to do it justice. We've earned respect but you can lose that quickly and we've got to do this justice, we've got to rise to the occasion."
Smith refutes the theory that the Chiefs have lost their momentum because of the losses and those defeats won't count for anything when the players take to the field next weekend.
"I am not a big believer in momentum because every game is its own entity," he said.
"You've just got to prepare for every game like it's the last one and play the best you can.
"We didn't play that well against the Hurricanes but still could have won against a team that was desperate to win.
"So the week off is good for us, we needed a bit of freshening up and work on some of our small unit skills, get our cleanout and presentation of the ball a bit better.
"The Hurricanes scored a couple of tries from our possession and that's not good enough. We need to fix things up and give it everything in the semi."
Smith feels there are positives from those losses to the Crusaders and Hurricanes because they have given the team a better understanding of what needs to be done in tight games.
"If you can't learn the lessons from the past two weeks, then we don't deserve to win it," he said.
"With a bit of situational awareness we would have won [against the Hurricanes] and if we can learn from that it could be good for us."
Smith also felt that it wasn't fair to say the team had taken a backward step since the resumption of the season after the break for the June tests.
"It is hard to say; we played really well against the Highlanders, which was a game we needed to win to put us where we are," he said.
"Against the Crusaders we played bloody well apart from not winning any set-piece ball.
"But we played with real heart and character. It was disappointing against the Hurricanes and I don't think we played as well, but we'll put that right."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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