Determined Chiefs may provide a surprise

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:00 27/07/2012
Sona Taumalolo
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ
METRE EATER: Chiefs' prop Sona Taumalolo.

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The irony of the Crusaders' crushing set-piece dominance against the Chiefs three weeks ago means the home side have the chance to surprise in tonight's Super Rugby semifinal at Waikato Stadium.

While the Chiefs got back within seven points and finished the game hammering the Crusaders' line on that last occasion the reality was that their lineouts were such a disaster and their scrum so shaky that they were never able to effectively employ many of their strike moves.

Some powder has been unintentionally kept dry.

If they can get those primary sources of possession right tonight - and it's a big if against a powerful All Blacks-laden Crusaders pack - Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie believes they have the ability to show a lot more on attack than last time.

"Hopefully we'll be throwing some things at them that they haven't seen and we've had the advantage of having a couple of weeks off, too," Rennie said.

"But those things are all a little bit of icing on the top as opposed to the real things we need to get right in the game."

Those real things include not just the set-piece - scrums, lineouts and kickoffs - but their performance in the collision areas, ball carriers getting over the gain line and the defensive spread when they don't have the ball will all be crucial to how well they do in this match, according to Rennie.

He believes attitude will be the No 1 factor in determining how they go in a lot of those areas tonight and said not only the whole forward pack but the team as a whole were "pretty motivated" after what had happened in their penultimate regular season game, followed by another loss to the Hurricanes.

"We know it's a big game, we know it's backs to the wall for both sides, but we believe if we get our hands on a bit more pill we can put them under pressure.

"If we bring intensity to everything we do - with and without the ball - everything else will flow from there," Rennie said.

Win enough ball to gain field position and mount meaningful attacks and the Chiefs still have to use that ball wisely.

It was noticeable in their last couple of regular season matches that they missed opportunities because of lack of vision by ball carriers, the last few minutes of that Crusaders match a classic example with hooker Hika Elliot and second-five Sonny Bill Williams both guilty of ignoring glaring overlaps.

Centre Andrew Horrell said the backs had to communicate better and demand the ball out wide in those situations inside the attacking zone.

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"We've just got to demand the ball so the forwards don't have the chance to run with it," Horrell said.

He certainly expects to get more ball from the hard work of the forwards this week.

Playoff experience certainly lies with the Crusaders team full of All Blacks who won a World Cup this year.

They have also been to plenty of Super Rugby semifinals, the franchise having won the title seven times to the Chiefs' none.

This is only the Chiefs' third visit to a semifinal in 17 years of Super Rugby, the previous occasions being in 2004 when they lost in Canberra to the eventual champions, the Brumbies, and in 2009 when they beat the Hurricanes to earn a final in Pretoria against the Bulls, which they lost heavily.

Win tonight and the Chiefs will then have to wait until early on Sunday morning and the other semifinal in Cape Town to find out whether they have to travel to South Africa for the final against the top-seeded Stormers or whether they will host the sixth-seeded Sharks.

The Crusaders will face the same wait for the same reasons if they win.

CHIEFS: Robbie Robinson, Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell, Sonny Bill Williams, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Kane Thompson, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke (c), Ben Tameifuna, Mahonri Schwalger, Sona Taumalolo. Res: Hika Elliot, Ben Afeaki, Mike Fitzgerald, Sam Cane, Brendon Leonard, Jackson Willison, Lelia Masaga.

CRUSADERS: Israel Dagg, Adam Whitelock, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Richie McCaw (c), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Ben Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Res: Quentin MacDonald, Owen Franks, Tom Donnelly, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Sean Maitland.

- Waikato Times

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