Chiefs acknowledge complacency a factor against overseas sides, approaching Force with caution in Perth
The Chiefs acknowledge complacency going into non-derby matches may well be the reason for their recent run of slow starts, as they prepare for another test of character against overseas opposition this weekend.
Having started the season in great shape, with three local-derby victories, the Chiefs are still sitting pretty at 6-1 and second in the high-quality New Zealand Conference, but they are scrambling for answers on why they have become so sluggish out the gates, ahead of their round nine encounter with the Force in Perth on Saturday night.
While they succumbed to a decent Stormers side a fortnight ago, fortunately for the Chiefs they have had the x-factor, patience and nous to get over the Rebels, Bulls and Cheetahs despite having to come from behind, with that taken to extreme levels in Bloemfontein last weekend, where the Cheetahs got out to a stunning 24-0 advantage.
After two weeks in South Africa, the Chiefs now face a mental test as much as anything, on this Western Australia stopover. The Force have lost to the Chiefs eight times out of 10, are 2-4 in a weak Australian Conference and are coming off their second bye of the season, with injuries forcing several changes from the team which beat the Kings 46-41 the week before.
It's exactly the script which spells danger for a lackadaisical Kiwi side in a competition where the games against fellow New Zealand teams are the mouth-watering contests to get pumped up for, and which carry added meaning in a conference setup. It's a scenario the Chiefs staff definitely subscribe to.
"Yep, I've got no doubt that comes into it," assistant coach Neil Barnes said.
"Yeah, you're definitely right, when you're playing the local derbies there's a fair bit of fear in behind that you won't get it right and that you'll come second in one of those encounters.
"And [when] you come up against someone that's lower down the table you might just take your finger off the pulse a little bit and that's all it takes at this level.
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"You've only got to have three or four players that aren't giving their opposition the respect they deserve, and that impacts on the whole team."
The other factor, for a second successive week for the Chiefs, is the hovering axe above their opponents, with the Force, like the Cheetahs, facing uncertainty over their involvement in Super Rugby from next year.
"There's a fair bit in the press over here, obviously, about what's going on, and a lot of people aren't happy," Barnes noted.
"We're striking teams that have had a week off and that are pretty grumpy.
"It's not a big deal, we just have to get on and play our own game, and make sure that we're on the right side of the scoreboard at the other end.
"We have to be able to counter the energy that these teams are bringing to the table."
Though the Chiefs hammered them 53-10 in Hamilton last year, the Force have won two of five against them in Perth (by two in 2008 and by one in 2014), and Barnes labelled them "actually a pretty good all-round team".
"We know we're in for a battle," he said.
"They haven't got the results they've wanted right across the season, but they're certainly a team that can knock anybody over on their day.
"They haven't got any obvious weaknesses that we're looking to pursue, but we're focusing very much on ourselves this week and getting our game intact."
Barnes said that was about laying an early platform where they're "winning the contacts and winning the races round the paddock", being accurate, not coughing up soft turnovers, and not being out-done physically.
"So that's just about us having our minds on the job, in our preparation, and then playing the way we expect Chiefs to play.
"We're very driven at the moment to finish this tour on a high note."
AT A GLANCE
Super Rugby, Rd 9
Force v Chiefs
nib Stadium, Perth
Saturday, 9.45pm (NZ time)
Force: Dane Haylett-Petty, Curtis Rona, Marcel Brache, Bill Meakes, Luke Morahan, Luke Burton, Ian Prior, Richard Hardwick, Matt Hodgson (c), Isi Naisarani, Ross Haylett-Petty, Lewis Carmichael, Tetera Faulkner, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Ben Daley. Reserves: Heath Tessmann, Francois van Wyk, Pek Cowan, Onehunga Havili, Brynard Stander, Mitch Short, Jono Lance, Alex Newsome.
Chiefs: Damian McKenzie, Shaun Stevenson, Sam McNicol, Anton Lienert-Brown, James Lowe, Aaron Cruden (co-c), Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Michael Leitch, Sam Cane (co-c), Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird, Atu Moli, Brayden Mitchell, Siegfried Fisi'ihoi. Reserves: Hika Elliot, Aidan Ross, Sefo Kautai, Taleni Seu, Lachlan Boshier, Finlay Christie, Stephen Donald, Toni Pulu.
Referee: Nic Berry