Playoff experience to carry top-seeded Chiefs

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:00 20/07/2013
Liam Messam
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CRUNCH TIME: Liam Messam and the Chiefs will be glued to their TV screens this weekend as they await their semi-final opponents.

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Chiefs co-captain Liam Messam – the only player in the franchise to play over 100 games – knows the value of experience.

And the co-captain believes the experience the bulk of this year's Chiefs squad have of Super Rugby playoffs after breaking through for their inaugural title last season will be invaluable over the next three weeks.

"We know we have to step up [from the 26-16 away win over the Blues last weekend], it's going to be a whole different level of intensity and our accuracy definitely needs to step up," Messam said.

"But we've got a whole lot of guys who have been there before so we know what it takes to get there and what intensity you need to bring come the semifinal."

Messam said the experience of 2012 was hugely beneficial and while some new players had not been involved in playoff football at this level before the majority had.

"If we can get our preparation right during the week and then can just come out and give 80 minutes for your mate next to you and hopefully come away with the win."

So who do the Chiefs think they might meet in the semifinal? The sixth-seeded Cheetahs need to upset the No3 seeds, the Brumbies, in their quarterfinal in Canberra tomorrow to earn a trip to Hamilton and force the winners of the Crusaders v Reds match tonight in Christchurch to travel to Pretoria to take on the No2-seeded Bulls.

"I've got a funny feeling the Cheetahs might do a bit of an upset, because they play some pretty good footy and it's hard to defend. But we'll just have to wait till Sunday."

Messam predicted most of the Chiefs players would be glued to their TVs this weekend.'

"It's pretty hard to prepare for a semifinal when you don't know who you are playing, but [in the meantime] it's a great opportunity for us to get our game right."

Head coach Dave Rennie is keeping more of an open mind about a possible semifinal opponent and said they were studying all three possibilities – the Crusaders, Reds and Cheetahs.

"I think it's wide open this year," Rennie said. "Last year I just couldn't see the Bulls beating the Crusaders in Christchurch, the Reds were starting to battle a bit and the Sharks ran over the top of them but it's harder to predict this weekend, I think."

Although the Brumbies don't play the Cheetahs in Canberra until tomorrow because of an NRL game at the ground today, Rennie said unlike last season it did not affect his team too much having to wait an extra day to find out who they play in the semifinal because they were guaranteed home advantage.

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"We know we're at home and it's just the opposition that's the issue. We'll be doing a bit of study Sunday morning still anticipating who we may have but in the end we are doing a lot of prep for all three teams at the moment and we'll know a bit more by the end of the weekend.

In the meantime it had been important to tidy up various aspects of their own play.

"We're certainly not satisfied and the boys understand how much hard work has to be done to win another title, but next week there will be three other teams left in it and we'll all have the same mindset.

"You're two games away from winning a championship and it's a no-stone-unturned kind of scenario," Rennie said. 

- Fairfax Media

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