Gifford: Great Chiefs start, shame about finish

PHIL GIFFORD
Last updated 05:00 13/04/2014
Highlanders v Blues
Photosport
ON THE CHARGE: Malakai Fekitoa making hard yards for the Highlanders.

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Having snatched two draws with desperation rugby in South Africa, and lost their key playmaker in the process, the Chiefs might have been forgiven for some nerves last night in Hamilton.

OPINION: As good as the Chiefs are, their greatest strength, a huge range of breath-taking attacking options, can also be their greatest weakness.

Sometimes they're too eager to get to the dazzling stuff before the foundations are laid. They needed a sensible start against the Rebels.

Step up please Gareth Anscombe. Wear the No 10 jersey when he's been used to No 15 for two seasons? Goal kick with heart breaking accuracy? Slice the Rebels' line open to set up the Chiefs' first try? Yes, yes, and hell yes.

A great start then. Pity about the finish.

Bizarrely, the Chiefs' effort would eventually be all foundation and few frills. If the second half efforts in South Africa were written in brilliant neon, the last 40 in Hamilton was duller than beige.

To be fair the Rebels are a much better outfit than their position at the bottom of the Aussie table indicates.

Their captain Scott Higginbotham played so angry you'd think one of the Chiefs had greeted him at the first lineout by asking if his parents had ever thought about getting married.

It's not the best recipe for building a warm relationship with the referee (in fact you can end up binned) but his barely contained rage certainly makes him a wrecking ball, both at breakdowns, and running on attack.

Fans in Hamilton can now look forward to a fascinating game next Saturday, when the Crusaders will arrive from South Africa with either renewed confidence, or very, very disgruntled.

How did he get away?

Malakai Fekitoa was in the Blues squad last year, but with Rene Ranger playing centre he didn't get even a minute of game time.

Now, at the Highlanders, he's New Zealand's form centre. Even if all he had was his speed and strength he'd be impressive.

But what sets him apart is his rugby mind. When you see him cut on perfect angles, no doubt one of the reasons Sir Gordon Tietjens rates him so highly as a sevens player, or time his passes so perfectly, visions of the great Joe Stanley come to mind. You're watching a centre, still only 21 years old, who isn't just competing with test level opponents, but, as he showed against the Bulls in Dunedin, outsmarting them.

It's a very rare player who looks capable of seamlessly stepping into an All Black jersey. More than anyone else in super rugby this year Fekitoa looks like one.

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Talking about the All Blacks

It's still a long, tough haul to the world cup next year, but if Andy Ellis can keep playing the way he has since he was dropped from the All Blacks in 2012, how could he be left out of the squad?

Right now, on form, he'd be the reserve to Aaron Smith, but Ellis is a victim of the selectors' quite logical desire to develop younger halfbacks. But unless TJ Perenara and Tawera Kerr-Barlow both really kick on, then Ellis, hugely experienced, intelligent, and a great team man, at 32 in 2015 a year younger than Richie McCaw, feels like a safe, yet still dynamic, pair of hands.

And about those scrums

Everyone knows they're a balls-up. Everyone knows they have to change. Everyone knows one of the major problems is that referees decide when the ball goes in. So please, please, don't let referees be the ones who decide on the next round of changes.

- Sunday Star Times

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