Staring down the barrel of a potentially record-setting 11-match winless streak, you could forgive the Chiefs for feeling a little worried ahead of their Saturday evening clash with the Crusaders in Christchurch.
After all, few teams leave the Garden City with much reward to show for their efforts – especially not sides who aren’t on top of their game.
The Chiefs, of course, haven’t got any real semblance of form to call upon, losing all eight fixtures in last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition and kicking off this season with a significant 39-23 loss to the Highlanders.
There were promising signs in the opening 30 minutes of the latest defeat, however, with the Chiefs racing out to a 20-6 lead. If they can channel that same energy that worked so well for them in the first half then perhaps they might actually stand a chance against the Crusaders – or, at least, that’s the theory from Chiefs assistant coach Neil Barnes.
“We’re one game into the season, we didn’t get the result we wanted but we’re here to win it so we’re going down to Christchurch with the bit between our teeth,” Barnes said ahead of Saturday’s match.
“At the end of the day [the Highlanders] threw caution to the wind and we missed some tackles. So, good on them, they finished up getting some tries that we’re not happy about and we didn’t get the result we had worked hard for.”
The likes of All Blacks Sam Cane, Tupou Vaa’i, Brad Weber, Anton Lienert-Brown and Luke Jacobson all missed one-on-one tackles on firecracker Jona Nareki, who was a major figure in four of the Highlanders’ five tries, and were no doubt filthy with themselves following the game.
Those individual errors aside, Barnes thought that the Chiefs had employed effective tactics throughout the game.
“I thought we tried to play the game in the right areas but when they brought the ball back on a couple of occasions we fell off a couple of tackles that turned into 40 to 50-metre tries,” he said.
"The blame game’s become a staple of Chiefs rugby. Remember Colin Cooper?"
– Hamish Bidwell on the Elephant in the room at the Chiefs. https://t.co/0hJATyfehu
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 10, 2021
Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Blues centurion James Parsons also liked what he saw from the Chiefs prior to Nareki’s increased involvement.
“It seriously was a one-man show and probably, if you look at it, that’s a positive for the Chiefs,” Parsons said. “It would’ve been a lot closer, if not a Chiefs win, had he not been on the field.
“They genuinely looked like the Chiefs of 2012 and 13. It was around the quick taps, the quick 22, keeping the ball alive, catching the team off-guard. You can see that Lienert-Brown was looking to quick tap and they got so much reward around that.”
The Chiefs will name their team for Saturday’s game later today, with Barnes suggesting that some changes will be on the cards.
“It’s a long season,” he said. “We’re going to need the whole squad.”
Saturday’s match kicks off at 7:05pm NZT and is available to stream via RugbyPass with a Super Rugby Aotearoa subscription.
Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:
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