Mastermind Smith builds Chiefs' defence

MARC HINTON IN HAMILTON
Last updated 05:00 03/03/2013
Wayne Smith
BEN CURRAN/Fairfax NZ
SMITH THE MASTERMIND: The Chiefs are known for their exciting back line but Wayne Smith has also given them some steel in defence.

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Sometimes, you've got to have a Plan B. Luckily for the Chiefs theirs has been drawn up by one of the game's masterminds, defensive coach Wayne Smith.

So while the defending champions last night struggled until the final quarter to get their renowned offensive game into gear, it mattered not a jot.

The Chiefs defence was so damn good, a mountain of possession and wealth of territory for the visiting Cheetahs yielded them the princely sum of three points through a first 60 minutes they dominated.

By then, the Chiefs, behind their iron curtain defensive line, had eked out a 17-3 lead that was as impressive as it was unlikely. While tries might win the admirers, everyone knows it's defence that wins championships.

And right now the Chiefs' defence is more advanced than its attack. It's going to keep winning them games too while they work their way into a rhythm with ball in hand.

When the floodgates did open over the final quarter, the crowd got their entertainment value as the home side ran in another four tries to lift their tally for the game to six, secure the bonus-point safely and join those Blues up at the top of the standings

Brodie Retallick in the middle of their pack was magnificent, but all the forwards stood up and thrived in the arm-wrestle.

They also collected often enough to squeeze the spirit out of the Cheetahs, who made all the play through the first half, and beyond, only to find themselves down 10-3 at the break, and 17-3 early in the second spell.

Then came the finish, which probably flattered the hosts a little as they opened up the South Africans' defence like a can of sardines. All that effort over the first hour clearly told as the Cheetahs leaked four tries to a side enjoying a belated chance to play some football.

It had been a pretty messy first half by the Chiefs who struggled to garner either the possession or the territory to unleash their lethal attacking game, but still scratched out that seven-point lead.

The home team spent most of the spell hard on defence, where they did well to keep their line intact in the face of some pretty hard and direct running from the South Africans.

The Cheetahs, playing that game of possession and width they favour, had by far the best of the scoring opportunities, but could find no way through that tight defensive screen before the errors inevitably came.

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A shocking first half by goalkicker Johan Goosen didn't help the visitors either, with three of four shots at goal missed and too many points squandered by a side playing so much of the rugby.

The Chiefs did strike once in the first half, scoring the only try through skipper and loose forward Liam Messam, in his 98th game of Super Rugby.

They had taken the lineout option off a penalty, and duly made the Cheetahs pay when they worked the phases across field and eventually got the sniff of the line that is all Messam needs. A helping hand from a couple of heavyweights in Ben Afeaki and Fritz Lee helped.

It took just a minute of the second half for the Chiefs to double their lead when lock Retallick did all the hard work (a charge down, and crucial touch on the deck) and prop Ben Afeaki twinkle-toed a metre or two down the sideline for the score.

Anscombe's pinpoint conversion from a difficult angle made it 17-3, and suddenly the Cheetahs were teetering on the brink.

Asaeli Tikoirotuma ran nicely off Aaron Cruden for the Chiefs' third try on the 64-minute mark, and then they came regularly, to Gareth Anscombe, who capped a perfect night with the boot with a nice score off the cutback, to rookie replacement hooker Rhys Marshall and finally big Ben Tameifuna.

The Chiefs forwards enjoyed a productive night and were led capably by Liam Messam, while Cruden took a big step back towards his best form, Lelia Masaga and Tikoirotuma looked likely out wide, and Anscombe continued to show his class.

Chiefs (Liam Messam, Ben Afeaki, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Gareth Anscombe, Rhys Marshall, Ben Tameifuna tries; Anscombe pen, 6 cons), Cheetahs (J Goosen pen). Ht: 10-3.

- Sunday Star Times

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