OPINION: The Chiefs have one of the most sophisticated coaching teams in Super 15 rugby, but the message before their semifinal against the Crusaders would have been a simple one - don't let Richie and the gang bully you.
The first 20 minutes of the match may have resembled a playground scrap at times but that's because the Chiefs were determined to stand up for themselves.
When Wyatt Crockett tried to pull Kane Thompson into a maul he took a whack at him.
On the two occasions when the Crusaders launched Luke Romano up the middle, he was driven back first by Craig Clarke, the captain leading by example, and was then wiped out by Ben Tameifuna. Romano tried to drop his shoulder into that tackle, but the Chiefs prop hit him so hard that Romano eventually had to leave the pitch.
When McCaw ran his usual lines of obstruction a Chiefs player smashed into the Crusaders captain, not only to defend his team's space, but to draw the ref's attention to what McCaw was up to. When Sam Whitelock tried to obstruct in front of the catcher from an early restart, Asaeli Tikoirotuma just charged through his back, leaving Whitelock protesting feebly on the ground.
The odd New Zealand ref might have punished the Chiefs, but South African Craig Joubert was immensely sensible, as were his assistants. They did correctly pull up Tawera Kerr-Barlow for treading on Robbie Fruean, who was deliberately not rolling away after the tackle. But by and large they let natural justice prevail. They let the Chiefs stand up for themselves.
It had three big effects on the match. Firstly, McCaw was not quite as effective as he usually is. They targeted the All Blacks captain quite ruthlessly.
Secondly, the cleaning out of Whitelock contributed to a try. At a subsequent restart Whitelock was much more reluctant to shield Andy Ellis and as a result Tikoirotuma was able to scrag the halfback. The pressure led to a hurried clearance, from which the Chiefs were able to counter-attack and score.
I am not sure that Steve Hansen will be thanking Dave Rennie, Wayne Smith and Tom Coventry for exposing these faultlines. The Chiefs were so successful in going after McCaw and Romano and in highlighting the Crusaders' penchant for obstruction and holding, that the top international sides will surely try to imitate them.
Todd Blackadder may not thank them either.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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