There is no panic in the Chiefs ranks, despite a good old-fashioned butt-kicking at the hands of the Crusaders on Friday night. The defending champions have been down this rocky road before.
Last season, en route to their first Super Rugby title, coach Dave Rennie's Chiefs lost their last two regular-season games to stumble, rather than rumble, into the playoffs. Didn't do them any harm then, and they're well aware that Friday night's pasting could yet be a positive, if used as a reality check.
The important thing, says Rennie, is to take the lessons on board and make the adjustments. And remember the outcome when you come without the requisite edge against a side as good as the Crusaders.
"We got smashed from the kickoff," reflected Rennie yesterday. "We were out-muscled, out-thought, out-played . . . out-everything'd. They were really up for it, got into us and we made a lot of errors, got penalised and struggled to get into the game.
"They got quick ball and were able to stretch us, and when we carried, we barely got gain-line, got slow ball and made errors."
The Chiefs weren't helped by losing key All Blacks forward Liam Messam late with a sore back, and the visiting forwards were well and truly tickled up by the Crusaders. But it's all fixable, reckons Rennie.
"We've done it all year. We needed to be up big time for that clash, and we were a couple of yards off it. What it forces you to do is look at everything you're doing, your individual preparation and mindsets, and the things that were key that week to make sure you get it right this week.
"We've been here before. A lot of it's around making sure we've got the attitude right on the day and got clarity in what we're doing." Saturday night's regular-season finale against the Blues now becomes vital. The Chiefs need a win to clinch a first-week bye and a home semi. They could yet be caught by the Crusaders should they stumble to a second straight defeat.
"We need to win, because if we win we get a week off and we're guaranteed a home semi," said Rennie. "Our destiny is still in our own hands, though we're going to need some luck to finish No 1. Someone's going to have to knock over the Bulls. We've just got to focus on winning. We're pretty clear on what we need to do, and it's just a case of getting our game going again next week."
Rennie is "hopeful" Messam will be good to go at Eden Park and Gareth Anscombe will be available again. Sam Cane (head knock) and Charlie Ngatai (foot) were the main concerns, though confidence also took a hefty blow as the Chiefs lost the big head-to-head battles.
"We need that edge," said Rennie. "When we have that we're a real handful. We've got to make sure we've got that physicality and urgency, and I've got no doubt the boys will bring it Saturday because they understand the importance."
- Sunday Star Times
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