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‘Fire in the belly’: Chiefs seek ‘revenge’ in Reds quarter-final

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Andy Jackson/Getty Images)

As the old sporting cliché goes, you learn more from your losses than victories. The Chiefs have harnessed the hurt from their sole defeat heading into the playoffs, and are hungry for “revenge.”

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For most of this year’s Super Rugby Pacific season, the Chiefs appeared to be unbeatable. They proved to be unstoppable, unbreakable, and unconquerable.

Or so we thought.

The Chiefs’ sensational unbeaten streak of 10-straight games came to a shocking end in New Plymouth last month.

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Playing against Brad Thorn’s Queensland Reds, a team who were desperate for a victory heading into the business end of the season, nobody expected the Chiefs to faulter.

Without co-captains Sam Cane and Brad Weber, the Chiefs fell to a three-point deficit late in the contest – and desperately tried to win the match at the death with an onslaught of attacking pressure.

But after 27 phases of attack, the Reds had held on. They’d done enough to shock the rugby world.

With three pumps of the whistle, referee Paul Williams quieted the otherwise vibrant Taranaki crowd, and sent the Reds players, coaches and staff into a frenzy.

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About one month on, the two teams will go head-to-head in a blockbuster trans-Tasman quarter-final at Hamilton’s FMG Stadium on Saturday.

Centre Alex Nankivell, who is unavailable due to injury, said that defeat lit a “fire in the belly” for the Chiefs heading into the knockout stage of the competition.

“There’s hopefully a bit of revenge for us this week, there’s a bit of fire in the belly,” Nankivell told RugbyPass.

“(They’re) a team that works really hard, they kick really well, and I think they’re going to be willing to hold onto the ball against us this week and try and build phases.

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“They’re a gritty team and they’re going to stay in the fight so it’s going to be a good challenge for us.

“We’ve touched on it but probably not so much to make it get emotional and get away from the task at hand.

“It changed our record obviously but it was probably good timing for us losing that game. Definitely take a hard look at yourselves after a loss and (there were) good lessons for us moving forward.

“It was three, four weeks out from the finals… it just takes away that complacency.

“Going into the finals undefeated, it’s almost a little bit of extra pressure that can pop into the back of the head of the boys.

“I think they did us a favour there, especially around some of our defensive stuff.”

Historically, the Crusaders have had a hold on Super Rugby Pacific over the last six years. Coach Scott Robertson has led the champion franchise throughout an unprecedented era of success.

But the Chiefs have been the frontrunners this season, and in the eyes of most rugby fans, the Hamilton-based side are more than deserving of the ‘favourites’ moniker heading into the playoffs.

With 13 wins from 14 games during the regular season, and a guaranteed run at home throughout every stage of the playoffs if they progress, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

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But as Nankivell discussed, the Chiefs aren’t necessarily looking at it like that.

What happened during the regular season “doesn’t really matter anymore” according to the Maori All Black.

“I think for us it’s just confidence that we’ve got the evidence that we can play really well and we can win against really strong teams,” Nankivell added.

“There’s more momentum more than anything, I’d say no one really has put their hand up as a group, in terms of teams, going into finals. Everyone’s a bit shaky going in.

“For us to go three from three in the back end of the comp and just build that momentum going into finals is just confidence I think.

“Haven’t really felt any pressure… just more excitement.”

The highly anticipated clash between the Chiefs and Reds is set to get underway at 4.35pm NZST on Saturday at FMG Stadium.

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