Chiefs must embrace big dog tag - Smith

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 18:37 19/02/2013

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Wayne Smith says the Chiefs must thrive on being perceived as favourites rather than underdogs if they are to prove they are not Super Rugby one-hit wonders.

And he should know. The Chiefs assistant coach went through the same thing as head coach of the champion Crusaders teams of 1998 and 1999.

''I personally think there is a lot of satisfaction in winning it as an overdog rather than an underdog and at the Crusaders we really targeted that after our first win in '98,'' Smith said.

''In '99 we became obsessed with proving we weren't one-hit wonders. So that's always a challenge and that's a challenge for this team.''

In some ways little changes from last year in that the whole Chiefs group understand it is hard work and doing the little things right week after week that will pay off.

''Last year we set about earning respect and earning it every week and that's what we've got to do again.

''If you do that and you earn the right to get supported and you earn the right to be in the playoffs then you gain a lot of satisfaction, so that's our first focus - trying to do that week by week, day by day and get that right,'' he said.

The Chiefs go into this Friday night's season opener against the Highlanders in Dunedin on the back of three wins out of three trial games and while the results of those are largely irrelavent compared to the trialling of players, combinations and game plans, Smith said a will to win had shone through from the players.

''Last week against the Hurricanes we were getting run down in the second half after being up 22-5 at one point and then changing combinations, but still through that shone the will to win and we took a penalty near the end which we hadn't done all pre-season, but the players wanted to win it.''

Despite the trial wins, Smith concedes the Chiefs have been ''rusty'' in some areas with new players having to fit into what are well honed systems for the established players.

''Our expectations are when we go on the field on Saturday night, though, are that everyone will have done their homework and we'll be a bit more accurate than we've been pre-season.''

The one area that has shone through consistently for the Chiefs in the trial matches and been a cornerstone of that will to win has been the defence that became such a key in their championship run in 2012 under the direction of Smith.

''That's the basis of any performance, I think. It's a key part of winning any title, any championship, so you've got to get that spot-on and it also sets your attitude.

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''If you're strong defensively and you're connected and you're playing together then that sets your attitude for your whole game.''

Head coach Dave Rennie is insistent that the Chiefs place equal amount of emphasis on defence as they do on attack.

''It's always influential in a result and we weren't so influential against the 'Canes I didn't think and we've got to really pick that up this week.''

In fact defence is so influential, according to Smith, not only in shutting down another team's attack but in gaining possession that 40 per cent of a team's tries come from that turnover area.

The Chiefs go into Friday's game with a number of backs sidelined by injuries - the problems arising a week earlier than last season - and a new face or faces will appear in either the midfield or the back reserves if either Bundee Aki or Charlie Ngatai or both does not recover in time with Andrew Horrell, Richard Kahui, Robbie Robinson and Brendon Leonard all out.

Former Chief Save Tokula (Waikato) and Napier school leaver Trinity Spooner-Neera have been called in as cover and are being quickly brought up to speed on calls.

Rennie said Ngatai and Aki were both rated an 80 per cent chance of being fit to play by medical staff.

- Waikato

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