Randell: Chiefs a super team, not superstars

TAINE RANDELL
Last updated 05:00 16/03/2014
Wayne Smith
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ
HIGH STANDARDS: Chiefs assistant coach Wayne Smith.

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OPINION: People are saying the Chiefs are the new Crusaders.

That's based on their ability to win back-to-back titles - and you wouldn't be betting against a third given their building form - in a chase of the Crusaders' incredible record of seven titles.

But I reckon many people are missing the point and need to think a little deeper. It's my belief that the Chiefs are in fact the old Crusaders.

There's a common link in Wayne Smith, the coach who launched the Crusaders' incredible run of success and who now finds himself immersed in Hamilton, having been at the core of turning around an unfashionable franchise into the new standard-bearer.

For me, the Chiefs are showing the hallmarks of those first successful Crusaders years. If you look at their tactics, they are based on:

Ultra consistent defence.

A clever kicking game that ensures they play most of their football in the opposition half.

An incredible ability to counter-attack.

At the Super Rugby level, it's a very effective way to play the game. The latter two categories are where the Chiefs hold their trump cards right now in setting up their attack.

I believe the Chiefs have the best kickers in the competition but, just as importantly, they have the best kick-return players going around.

It's incredible how many poor kicks lead to tries in Super Rugby and the Chiefs are the team who are going to punish you most in this area. They seem to always have the numbers at the back to launch something from nothing.

But they showed even more than that in Friday night's win against the Stormers.

Right now their attacking strategies in general are far superior to the Crusaders. Interestingly Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has said they have got to get into gear quickly.

Well, the Chiefs did exactly that against the Stormers, who have been notoriously hard to penetrate with their outside-in rush defence.

Yet at Waikato Stadium we saw Chiefs wings Tim Nanai-Williams and James Lowe were regularly getting the ball from first or second phase play.

Just the mention of those guys' names reflects the ethos of this Chiefs team. Nanai-Williams and Lowe aren't world-beaters. Add in Gareth Anscombe, Tom Marshall and Charlie Ngatai who made up the bulk of the Chiefs backline for their latest game and this is a super team operating largely without superstars. They are indeed a "team" and that is what Smith and head coach Dave Rennie have instilled.

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Not that the Chiefs are devoid of some big names, none bigger than their co-captains Liam Messam and Aaron Cruden who have quickly formed an effective partnership in guiding this side.

Messam is the pulse of the team, a workaholic loose forward, while Cruden adds the guile in the crucial playmaker's role. It's a potent combination.

I like what I'm seeing from Messam this year and I sense that's coming from clever management. He is super tough on the field but much of that comes from what is happening off the field.

In these modern times when there are so many support staff, a lot of the assistants are guilty of over-doing things to justify their existence and often the big loser is the player who is getting overloaded with drills and information.

I suspect Messam is being given plenty of time to simply refresh his body and mind each week and make sure he's ready to front up and lead on match day.

As for Cruden, well, comparisons with Dan Carter are going to be inevitable since he's followed in Carter's shadow for so long with the All Blacks.

But Cruden proved last year he's more than up to the task in international rugby and he's just getting more and more influential with the Chiefs.

Most consider that Carter was at the peak of his powers when he ripped the British & Irish Lions to pieces in 2005 when he was aged 23.

Cruden recently turned 25 so he really is coming into his prime.

If we have concerns about Carter's creaking body with the defence of the World Cup looming next year, then we should take plenty of comfort from the way Cruden is responding in the positive environment that the Chiefs have created.

- Sunday News

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