Chiefs suffocating defence key to strong start
Richard Kahui is back and cutting capers on attack along with winger Lelia Masaga but, until more passes stick, defence remains the Chiefs' star player.
Once again the Chiefs' suffocating defence was king at Mt Maunganui's Baypark Stadium on Saturday night as they saw off an assault from the in-form Blues that most teams probably would not have been able to repel.
If anything the Chiefs' line speed and defensive structure took another step up against the potent Blues backline and scarcely allowed a line break until they finally ran out of numbers three minutes from the end to allow a consolation try to the visitors' left wing, George Moala.
"I think it was probably our best defensive effort, to be honest, because we needed line speed against these guys to shut them down," Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie said.
"Our guys worked really hard on the inside to get our assist tackles in, so we caused a few problems there, and managed to get a bit of loose ball and use that, so that was huge for us."
Kahui believes the unity and character of the side is a major contributor to the success of their implementation of Wayne Smith's defensive systems.
"We worked really hard for each other and guys were getting up off the ground [and making more tackles] and it's not just this week - it's been the last six weeks," Kahui said.
"If you can stop those cheap points, those cheap tries creeping in, it makes a big difference at the end of the game.
"They probably had every right to score one or two tries against us but we stuck tough and worked hard for each other and I was really proud of the boys tonight."
Kahui said the line speed had been crucial to shut down a backline containing dangerous attackers like Francis Saili and Rene Ranger.
"I thought we did a really good job of that for the majority of the game. A couple of times I thought we were probably guilty of giving them a chance to attack when we'd make line breaks and then make a mistake and then they'd counter-attack off that.
"That probably comes back to our missed opportunities as well and we probably haven't quite got our attack right yet. [We're] probably a step or two behind where we need to be but we know that and that's why the boys are happy to win but not overly happy with the performance. That's not a bad place to be," he said.
Rennie praised the attitude of his players, not just on defence but in overcoming several first-half setbacks including disallowed tries and the yellow card for Bundee Aki for a tip tackle.
"I thought the boys showed a lot of composure through that. We got through to halftime and I thought we controlled the first 20 of the second half well, played at the right end, put a lot of pressure on.
"So I think from an intensity point of view, it's building. It certainly wasn't perfect, but it was two teams going pretty hard at each other."
It was the fourth win in a row for the Chiefs against the Blues, but against a much stronger Blues team than that of last year and they finished the match strongly.
"They're a good side and they remind us a lot of what we were this time last year - young fellas with a bit of experience around them and they're going well," Rennie said.
As for the Chiefs' attack, skipper Liam Messam said he believed they are not far off hitting their stride: "Once those passes do stick and we do hold on to the ball I think it's going to be exciting times for our attack."