'That's been taken away': The overlooked consequence of shifting the Chiefs' final home game of the year to Sydney
It’s not been a great year for Chiefs fans in Hamilton and the news earlier this week that the team’s final home game of the year would be shifted to Leichardt Oval in Sydney is a further nail in the coffin.
A minor COVID outbreak ahead of the second round of Super Rugby Aotearoa forced the Chiefs’ first home game of the season to be played in front of limited numbers.
The Crusaders, playing on the same weekend, were given the opportunity to shift their match from Saturday to Sunday, which meant a full crowd could be welcome to the match.
No such rescheduling was made for Hamiltonians, however, with only the team’s closest and dearest given the opportunity to attend.
Come the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman season, the Chiefs were one of the five teams to be allocated just two home games while the other five sides were granted three opportunities to host.
Now, the Rebels’ inability to travel to New Zealand due to restrictions between Victoria and NZ has required the Chiefs’ final home game of the year to be relocated to Australia.
All in all, the Chiefs have been afforded the opportunity to play just five matches in front of a full home crowd in 2021 – the fewest in the team’s 26-year history.
Speaking to media on Friday, coach Clayton McMillan acknowledged that while it was hugely disappointing for the region, it’s simply one more consequence of the current world climate.
“It’s really unfortunate that we weren’t able to get back home and play in front our home crowd,” he said.
“We’ve loved playing back there this year and we’re really keen to make that a fortress and it’s unfortunate that we won’t be able to do that this week but that’s COVID-19 at its best.
“I know Mike [Chiefs CEO Michael Collins] and our board have been working extremely hard to get this game held back at home.
“Basically left it to the 11th hour before it sort of became impossible for everyone to get the game back at home so I know that they’ve done everything they can to try and make that happen.
“What we’re disappointed about is we know that we’ve got some passionate fans, sponsors, stakeholders that want to see us play at home and I can give them some assurances that everything possible was done to try and make that happen.”
Earlier in the week, Chiefs co-captain Brad Weber suggested via social media that perhaps the Chiefs’ final match of the season against the Waratahs, also scheduled to be played in Sydney, could be shifted to Hamilton to even up the ledger.
Really feel for our fans! 1 home game out of 5 for us this SRTT ? How about you lot @SuperRugby, or whoever is running it, change next week's game against the Tahs, to at home in Hamilton. That way we all get two home games https://t.co/nZZCJzo9us
— Brad Weber (@brad_weber9) June 3, 2021
McMillan, however, suspected that might be more trouble than it’s worth.
“Looking ahead to the Waratahs game, it’s just throwing another spanner in the works and complicating matters for other teams to suggest they have to come over to New Zealand to play us,” he said.
“We’ve all learnt that COVID-19 is a challenge and you need to be prepared to adapt and change and, as I keep saying, roll with the punches.
“I know it seems for our loyal fans and our players that we seem to keep getting the raw end of the stick but we’re committed to playing … and then [we] just hope that we get better opportunities moving forward.”
Instead, the Chiefs will remain in Sydney following Sunday’s game and won’t return home before their game against the Waratahs.
While the relocation of the game against the Rebels has an obvious impact on the fans, it also has consequences for the Chiefs contingent currently still based in Hamilton.
The Chiefs took a small touring group to Queensland last weekend, expecting that they’d all return home to play the Rebels. While there’s be plenty of off-field bonding for the touring players, the men left at home haven’t been able to join in the experiences.
“The disappointing thing is that there are about 10 players that have been left at home and aren’t able to be here to fully embrace being on tour,” said McMillan.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 5, 2021
“It has been nice to sort of be away and the weather gods have treated us well so that’s a nice aspect but it’s just that some camaraderie and time hanging out with each other, utilising your downtime, it’s one of the great things about rugby, isn’t it?”
Damian McKenzie and Liam Messam have both returned to New Zealand ahead of Sunday’s game with Sean Wainui and Tom Florence joining the squad in their place, but the bulk of the non-travelling contingent will remain in NZ and are unlikely to opportunities to push for a spot in the final matchday 23 of the season.
“We’ll assess after this weekend’s game any injuries or dings and see if we need to bring anybody else over,” McMillan said. “Those guys at home I’m sure want the team to do well but are hopefully looking for an opportunity themselves to come over.
“I think there’s probably a couple of guys that are at home that would have been contenders to be in the matchday 23. Every week, I think one of our strengths has been that when you play well or you train hard, then you give yourself an opportunity to play on the weekend and that’s been taken away from the guys that are currently stuck at home.
“They’re a victim of circumstance. But we know that they’re training hard and they understand that some of these decisions are sort of out of our control and we’re trying to put our focus on the things that we can actually control.”
Sunday’s match between the Chiefs and the Rebels kicks off at 3:05pm AEST from Leichardt Oval in Sydney.
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