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Schoolboy errors, terrible set piece. These are not descriptions you expect after administering a 45-3 thrashing.
It was clear the Chiefs went backwards in last night's trouncing of the Cheetahs in Hamilton but furious Chiefs coach Dave Rennie's reaction still came as a surprise.
Rennie lamented a torturous evening in the box, preferring to focus on the first 65 minutes when it felt like his men were distant relatives of last year's players.
They eventually blew away the South African strugglers in the final quarter for a bonus point win but that wasn't enough to appease Rennie. ''It was a frustrating night. We struggled to get things going,'' he said.
''It wasn't good enough. The scoreboard may indicate we were dominant but there were a lot of schoolboy errors out there. We wouldn't have beaten too many teams tonight.''
It's difficult when you set the benchmark so high. That stems from Dunedin last week, when the Chiefs started their title defence in style.
''We were three steps back tonight. I always felt we had the winning of the game but it came with a rush at the end,'' Rennie continued.
''We should have put them out of it a lot earlier. We need to be a hell of a lot better next week.''
It seemed the Chiefs had lowered their standards to their opposition's level but they showed their class by changing up a gear in the closing stages. Scoring six tries - five in the second half - and holding the Cheetahs to one penalty paints a picture of perfection. Defence was superb but mistakes at set-piece and ill-discipline need addressing.
Sam Cane, Liam Messam and Brodie Retallick led up front and Aaron Cruden pulled out some of his best tricks at the death.
But Messam reiterated Rennie's sentiments.
''Our set piece was terrible, our lineout didn't function, our scrum didn't function like we thought it would,'' he said.
Indeed, cohesion was absent from a scrappy first half, marred by
repeated infringements. The gun powder was fired in the pre-match fireworks but there was a painful wait for another spark, even when Chiefs co-captain Messam used his strength to power over after turning down a shot at goal.
Surprisingly, after over 31,000 turned out at Eden Park last night, an average crowd greeted the defending champions.
And they wouldn't have been impressed with their side's start, either.
Ill-discipline - they conceded three penalties in the first seven minutes in a sign of things to come - spoilt chances to build continuity. The Chiefs battled for quality ball all night.
After being promoted from the bench ahead of All Blacks halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Augustine Pulu appeared rattled at times. His decision-making from the base was questionable and his box kicks wayward. It was no surprise when Kerr-Barlow was injected, just five minutes after the break.
While the Chiefs struggled to find their rhythm, or venture into the opposition half, the Cheetahs quickly signalled intentions play with width. As expected, their sense of adventure defied typical South African style -and it should have been more beneficial, had Springboks first five-eighth Johan Goosen not missed nine kickable points. But after that early onslaught, they offered little.
Retallick did his best to ignite the second half. The busy All Blacks lock charged down an attempted clearance kick and tapped the loose ball into Ben Afeaki's hands - the prop gratefully flopping across the chalk for his first try in Super Rugby. Gareth Anscombe, who bagged 20 points, made it 17-3 and there was no looking back. The grinding down of the visitors was complete.
Two pieces of Cruden brilliance added the polish.
Yet there is a sense the Chiefs will need to rediscover their round- one form if they are to beat the Stormers in Cape Town next week.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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