Champion Chiefs missing right attitude in Perth

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2014
Western Force
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BIG UPSET: Force lock Wilhelm Steenkamp celebrates after his team's surprise win over the Chiefs in Perth.

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The inflight entertainment was unlikely to be a priority for the Chiefs management team as the defending Super Rugby champions headed for South Africa after their horror show against a history-seeking Western Force in Perth yesterday.

Dave Rennie and his assistants Wayne Smith and Tom Coventry had plenty to ponder on the journey from Perth to Johannesburg - an expedition that got under way shortly after the Force stunned the back-to-back title holders 18-15 at nib Stadium.

Studying a video footage of the Chiefs' shoddy effort was probably a priority and would confirm what the trio witnessed - a performance littered with unforced errors, handling lapses and an alarming turnover rate.

The Chiefs lineout, regarded pre-match as the most unreliable in the competition - also had it's anxious moments but arguably the major concern was the players' inability to thwart the Force's rolling mauls, at least legally.

Matt Hodgson's double - the only five-pointers of a match that saw the Chiefs held tryless in Australia for the first time since 2001 in Canberra - were both instigated by close range mauls that fragmented the Chiefs defence.

Hodgson peeled off one formation in the 12th minute and was on hand again five minutes into the second half when another well-executed drive culminated in a touchdown for the impressive openside flanker and captain.

Undoubtedly the Bulls, spearheaded by one of the most abrasive forward units in the competition, will have taken note of a tactic that contributed to former All Black prop Jamie Mackintosh being yellow carded late in the first half as they basked in the afterglow of their own success - a 23-19 win in Durban that ended the Sharks unbeaten run hours after the Chiefs slumped to their first loss.

Perth has proved a difficult stopover for Kiwi teams in recent seasons - the Crusaders were pipped 16-14 on the way back from South Africa last season - and the much-maligned Australian franchise replicated that glorious night to enhance Michael Foley's rebuild.

"There's great belief in this group now," said Hodgson, after the Force backed up a dramatic two-point win in Dunedin in the previous round with another defiant defensive effort.

The Force hung on against the Highlanders despite finishing the game with 13 players and they also had to show resilience against the Chiefs given Ben McCalman was suspended and fellow loose forward Hugh McMeniman withdrew at halftime with a shoulder injury.

Rennie, who labelled the Chiefs effort in the opening leg of a three-match road trip as "poor", watched as his side were ponderous out of the blocks and never really threatened to breach the Force's defensive screen until late in the final quarter.

Knock-ons by Gareth Anscombe and Tim Nanai-Williams - who also sabotaged another promising thrust when joining a forward drive - undermined what would have been a remarkable escape.

The Chiefs committed 10 handling errors and conceded 20 turnovers - crippling statistics in a closely-fought encounter.

"We just made far too many errors. It's hard to believe we led at halftime because we hardly fired a shot. We're a better side than that," said Rennie.

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"Even mentally we didn't look that sharp."

Co-captain Aaron Cruden agreed.

"The attitude wasn't there right from the start. The Force got the bounce on us and it probably flowed right through the game," the pivot said.

"Guess we weren't there mentally."

The Chiefs at least secured a bonus point and remain top of the New Zealand conference and third overall heading into a tough assignment at Loftus Versfeld and then a clash with the struggling Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

Encouragingly All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick was prominent around the park and Richie McCaw's understudy Sam Cane made a solid season debut on the openside flank.

Meanwhile, the Force - who have a bye this week - are seeking a record-equalling fourth straight win in Brisbane on April 5 after winning three in a row for the first time since 2007.

"I'm absolutely thrilled for the blokes. The amount of character shown out there against a champion side was outstanding," Foley said.

However, that satisfaction was tempered yesterday by news that former All Black halfback Alby Mathewson has been cited for stamping on Cane at a breakdown in the third minute - an offence that warranted a red card according to a statement issued by Sanzar.

- Waikato Times

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