The Chiefs won't back off from a potential "arm wrestle" with the Sharks in tonight's Super Rugby final at Waikato Stadium.
The home team are certainly expecting that from a big, physical South African side with plenty of powerful ball carriers who favour the direct approach.
It's questionable whether the Chiefs should get too tied up in such a contest and would be better to play at high pace, put the ball behind the Sharks and get the ball wide whenever the opportunity presents itself.
But Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie insists there is no way of hiding from the forward confrontation and in fact he wants his team to impose themselves on the visitors in that area.
"We need to stamp our physicality on the game, because that's the way we've played [all season]," Rennie said.
"They'll be aware of that, but we need to be able to create go-forward and our boys are certainly up for matching it toe to toe."
But the Chiefs also know they have to be smart about how they do that and also take advantage of the huge amount of travel between time zones the Sharks have had to do in the past three weeks.
"We obviously want to use our backs but still give our big fellas a chance to carry and get them in the game, get their shoulders working etc."
There is no doubt the Sharks are licking their lips at the prospect of a forward stoush and taking the Chiefs on in the starting points - scrums, lineouts and kickoffs - as well as the collision areas.
Combative 111kg Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis, who will play his 100th Super Rugby match for the Sharks tonight, yesterday acknowledged the Chiefs were worthy finalists and had done well up front to get there.
"But we also try to pride ourselves on our set-pieces that we work really hard on every week and every day and I'm looking forward to the challenge," du Plessis said with a grin.
Skipper and flanker Keegan Daniel was similarly backing his own loose forwards to take on another strength of the Chiefs with him, 21-year-old blindsider Marcell Coetzee and No 8 Ryan Kankowski in ominous form.
"They've got quality loose forwards and having Sam [Cane] come off the bench just shows the depth that they have, but I think equally we can match it with the depth we have coming off the bench and the impact those players have had over the last three or four weeks."
Sharks coach John Plumtree said he expected a "pretty big arm wrestle" regardless of the weather, in reference to a forecast for showers tonight.
"It's going to be tough - it's going to be a real big final."
Don't expect the Sharks to be put off by a noisy, parochial home crowd tonight. They have overcome much bigger such audiences in Brisbane and Cape Town in the past two weeks.
But though the Chiefs will be stirred on by the 25,100 sellout crowd, it is the level of intensity and accuracy they bring to all aspects of their play that will decide their fate.
They have fine-tuned their game plan and it is not too different from what has stood them in good stead all season.
If it's wet they will stand a little closer together, change their tactics in the red zone, put a bit more ball in behind the Sharks, but the rest will remain the same.
"Regardless, we still want to try to stress them and find space in behind, try to manipulate their defence so it doesn't change too much," Rennie said.
"We're prepared to play a bit of footy; it's the type of game that's got us to where we are now and you don't want to get to a final and throw everything away that's worked for you and instead kick the ball and hope for mistakes.
"We'll mix it up - no different to other games. Set-pieces are vital to us and intensity all over the park with or without the ball is going to be crucial," he said.
Just like the last time these two teams played the Sharks will look to effectively cut down Sonny Bill Williams' attacking space at second five-eighth, but Rennie said it was easier said than done.
"In the end they've still got to stop him and I don't think Sonny could have played worse [the last time against the Sharks back in April in Durban].
"It's all well and good knowing how to stop him but you've still got to do the job. Everyone all year has known that he's a threat and how good he is but he's still managed to bust a lot of tackles and create a bit of havoc.
AT A GLANCE
Chiefs: Robbie Robinson, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Sonny Bill Williams, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Kane Thompson, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (c), Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Sona Taumalolo. Res: Hika Elliot, Ben Afeaki, Mike Fitzgerald, Sam Cane, Brendon Leonard, Jackson Willison, Lelia Masaga.
Sharks: Patrick Lambie, Louis Ludik, J P Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Lwazi Mvovo, Frederick Michalak, Charl McLeod, Ryan Kankowski, Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel (c), Anton Bresler, Willem Alberts, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tenda Mtawira. Res: Craig Burdon, Wiehan Herbst, Steven Sykes, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes, Meyer Bosman, Riaan Viljoen.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia).
Kickoff: 7.35 tonight, Waikato Stadium.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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