Coventry admits Chiefs yet to hit full stride
The Chiefs might have gone one better than last year and finished top of the Super Rugby round-robin but there is concern they have yet to hit their straps in 2013.
As top seeds the defending champions have not only the quarterfinal bye this week and a home semi-final next week, but a home final also beckons without relying on any other results this time.
The lack of a single total 80-minute performance this season despite the results on the paddock could be viewed two different ways - nervously going into the playoffs that a standout game has yet to be played so late in the season or excitedly in anticipation such an improvement is just around the corner.
"In the back of our minds there is a little bit of angst about how we've played leading up to the semis," Chiefs forwards coach Tom Coventry said.
"We haven't really put a performance on the track, to be honest, that we've been totally pleased with all year."
They'd had bits and pieces of it, but when the team was winning and leading the competition it was hard to be really critical.
"Maybe it's just about winning the rugby and getting the job done regardless is more important than anything.
"Of course it is but we're all perfectionists here and I think we have a pretty critical eye all four of us [coaches] and sometimes we've just got to sit back and enjoy it.
"There are plenty of other coaches in the country who would be pretty happy with their team winning every week rather than just putting on an A-plus performance," Coventry said.
It was a long campaign that started back in November and they owed it to themselves to put in two big performances to get what they wanted out of the year.
"It's within their reach and it's just a matter I suppose of that pressure to performance in the last couple of weeks."
Coventry described the step up in performance the Chiefs will have to make from their most recent game against the Blues to the semifinal as "significant".
"Generally, across the board our continuity needs to be better, we need to be better at building pressure without coughing up the ball, I didn't think our strikes were particularly good, so going forward with the ball we need to be much better.
"We've got some strike players but we just need to be better at getting the go-forward we need early in the sequence of play and then holding onto the ball.
"How many tries did we cough up in the second half - probably five or six opportunities to score - through sloppy finishing."
Ironically, two areas where the Chiefs have done a lot of work this season - defence and taking the ball into contact - have not gone that well recently.
But both relied on having the attitude of the players right in order to execute the systems properly.
"Maybe the pressure of 'if you lose you're gone' will help. We haven't had that yet and it comes down to the second last game of the season to get it.
"But playing at home is going to help, because running out in front of a full Waikato crowd is always pretty special and makes a big difference," he said.
Coventry regards the quarterfinal bye the Chiefs have got this week by virtue of finishing top of the table as invaluable to get a number of his forwards over a variety of bumps, bruises and other ailments.
But he is confident they will all be available for selection next week despite several of them, including three 2013 All Blacks, sitting out yesterday morning's training session at Ruakura.
All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick still had his high ankle sprain encased in a moonboot as he watched the session, tighthead prop Ben Afeaki was still resting his injured back, co-captain and flanker Liam Messam was also a spectator as he managed his own sore back and flanker Tanerau Latimer was managing a calf injury.
"There's a few dings but I don't think there's anything that's going to hold them back for next weekend," Coventry said.