Champion Chiefs are working hard for answers

CHIEFS COACH: Dave Rennie knows his side need to improve on their poor starts and sloppy lineouts.
CHIEFS COACH: Dave Rennie knows his side need to improve on their poor starts and sloppy lineouts.

If this story was a metaphor for the Chiefs' performances over the past few weeks, it wouldn't get started until about halfway through.

That's the major work on for Dave Rennie's side after an inconsistent three-week tour, which saw them lose to the Western Force and come back for draws with the Bulls and Cheetahs.

While the set piece may be another area in need of vast improvement, the coach said it's getting out of the changing sheds and playing from the first whistle that he is worried about.

The team spent 75 minutes yesterday morning trying to diagnose the slow-start symptoms, and Rennie said the team is intent on making a fast start this weekend against the Rebels.

"That's what we've been discussing for the last hour and a quarter upstairs," he said yesterday at Chiefs HQ.

"Clearly we need to be at the right end of the field, and be reasonably direct, and have a strong base to work from. We probably haven't done that in the last few weeks.

"That'll certainly be the focus this week. Hopefully then later in the game we'll earn the right to play the same sort of footy that we did last week."

The Chiefs were half asleep in the first half against the Cheetahs on Sunday morning, heading to the sheds 34-10 down.

After a good talking to by Rennie at halftime, the Chiefs came out and played arguably their best half of rugby in three years.

"It's been mentioned a lot over the last couple of days," Rennie said of his frustrated look after the Cheetahs draw.

"I was pretty happy we drew. You might not have noticed it, but it was more around the frustration, it was one of the best halves we've played in the last three years.

"To be that dominant against a team, at that altitude, and for us to finish so strongly, we're in great nick. Our trainer Phil Healy's done a fantastic job.

"So the frustration was around the mental side of things and how we'd started poorly and put ourselves under a bit of pressure."

Captain Liam Messam said he was disappointed with how the team finished their tour, but hopes they have learnt from the past three matches.

"I guess as a team it's probably not the way we wanted to finish the tour.

"If we can learn from those lessons it's going to be to the benefit of the team.

"We've learnt some lessons the hard way, especially against the Bulls and the Cheetahs. It's just how we start our football.

"We showed some great heart and character to come back in those two games, but [we need] not to get into those positions to start off with."

The other area for improvement is the lineout, although Messam said he was pleased with the improvements in the draw with the Cheetahs.

Hooker Rhys Marshall had a torrid time against the Bulls, overthrowing several times, and appearing to cave in under the pressure of having outstanding lock Victor Matfield in the opposing team.

"Our first two weeks on tour our lineout was a shambles," Messam said. "I thought, especially Marshall, our young hooker, really stepped up last week against the Cheetahs.

"A lot of pressure was put on to that young kid, and for him to bounce back and perform like he did against the Cheetahs is promising."

Rennie said the lineout still needs a lot of hard work, and the team have been putting plenty of hard work into it.

"There's always areas that we've got to be sharper in. It's important, and the guys are working at it.

"You've got Victor Matfield standing in the middle of that lineout too, and I know the Hurricanes would have been pretty happy he didn't play last week.

"We had a better plan[last] weekend, I think it was a better plan that helped Rhys, and we altered our structures off that as well. We'll look to do the same this week."

Fairfax Media