Sam Cane sees similarities between Chiefs' and Waratahs' blunder years
When the draw for Super Rugby Pacific’s Super Round was first revealed, many would have seen the Chiefs’ fixture against the Waratahs as the easiest of the encounters for the Kiwi sides but a lot has changed over the last few months.
2021 was an unquestionably terrible season for the New South Wales side, with the Waratahs losing all 13 of their matches throughout the year and managing just three competition points throughout the entirety of their campaign.
There’s been a remarkable upturn in their fortunes this season, however, with the Waratahs recording five wins from their eight matches to date, only suffering defeats at the hands of Australian heavyweights the Brumbies and Reds.
As such, while the Chiefs will undoubtedly go into Friday night’s clash as favourites – as is the case for the other four New Zealand teams – the Waratahs will be quietly confident they have the firepower needed to pull the wool over an undermanned Chiefs side shorn of the talents of All Blacks Brodie Retallick, Brad Weber and Anton Lienert-Brown.
Chiefs captain Sam Cane sees marked similarities between this year’s Waratahs team and the Chiefs of recent years, who also underwent a tough campaign in 2020 when they lost all eight of their Super Rugby Aotearoa matches, only to bounce back the following season and make the competition final.
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“A couple of years ago we had a rough season where I still felt like we had a good squad, good players, but we just couldn’t quite piece it together,” Cane said this week. “Maybe that was a little bit the case for [the Waratahs].”
While preparing for the New Zealand teams has been relatively straightforward this year thanks to their similar tactics and strengths, the Waratahs will offer a fresh new challenge for the Chiefs – while the opportunity to spend three weeks on tour has also helped freshen things up for the team.
“This year, their set-piece has been going really well,” Cane said. “They challenge hard in and around the transition zone and they’re probably one of the best defensive teams in the competition too.
“They defend slightly different to the Kiwi teams so that will present a slightly different challenge to us from an attacking point of view. It’ll be awesome.
“One of the cool things about rugby is often touring and it’s been a while since we’ve done anything like that so I know there’s a bit of excitement about getting over to Aussie as a squad and playing away from home and challenging ourselves against the Aussies.”
The upturn in the Waratahs’ fortunes has also coincided with the return to Sydney of Wallabies captain Michael Hooper who spent the 2021 Super Rugby season playing in Japan’s Top League competition. While Hooper was sidelined for the early part of 2022 due to injury, the decorated openside flanker is now forming a strong combination with Kiwi flanker Charlie Gamble.
“He’s been an outstanding contributor to Australian rugby for a very long time,” Cane said of the man lining up opposite him in the No 7 jersey on Friday night. “The way he went away to Japan and came back and sort of hadn’t missed a beat was pretty impressive.
“We talk about the Waratahs having improved, he’s probably got a wee bit to do with that.”
The battle between the Chiefs and Waratahs is set to kick off at 6pm AEST (8pm NZT) and will be the first of five fixtures played in Melbourne this weekend.
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