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‘They all hurt’: Chiefs coach reacts to another Grand Final defeat

By Finn Morton
Shaun Stevenson of the Chiefs reflects during the Super Rugby Pacific Grand Final match between Blues and Chiefs at Eden Park, on June 22, 2024, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

For the second year in a row, the Chiefs have fallen at the last hurdle in Super Rugby Pacific after being caught on the wrong side of a one-sided Grand Final at Eden Park. The Blues emerged triumphant 41-10 after the Chiefs “didn’t fire any bullets” in the decider.

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The Chiefs were the form team of the competition in 2023, with the Hamilton-based outfit earning the right to host the Grand Final at FMG Stadium Waikato. But after losing to the Crusaders, they soon turned their focus to going one better this season.

While they seemed to fly under the radar for long periods of the campaign, the likes of Damian McKenzie, Wallace Sititi and Emoni Narawa showed time and time again that they weren’t to be counted out. This was a team that had the potential to take home the crown.

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After knocking the Hurricanes out with a clinical win in Wellington last weekend, the Chiefs travelled north to Auckland but this challenge proved too tough. The Blues weren’t just dominant, they were relentless as they piled on the points.

Match Summary

2
Penalty Goals
1
5
Tries
1
5
Conversions
1
0
Drop Goals
0
153
Carries
78
5
Line Breaks
4
10
Turnovers Lost
13
5
Turnovers Won
2

The match was all but over in the 50th minute when wing Caleb Clarke scored the second of his three tries. The Chiefs continued to throw the odd punch but none were really landing as they were beaten with the title on the line for the second consecutive season.

“Just not our day really, was it? We barely fired a shot. It was disappointing for the boys who have put in a lot of hard work, disappointing for our fans who toured up state highway one,” coach Clayton McMillan told reporters at Eden Park.

“To go out with a bit of a whimper was disappointing but still incredibly proud of this team.”

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“They all hurt mate, they all hurt,” he added later in the press conference.

“Last year’s one hurt because we felt like we’d actually fired lots of bullets and did enough to win. This one hurt because we didn’t fire any bullets.”

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Former All Blacks backrower Akira Ioane opened the scoring in his final match for the Blues in the 11th minute. Caleb Clarke was the only try scorer in the opening 40, but the boot of Harry Plummer saw the hosts take a commanding 20-3 lead into the sheds.

The Chiefs went down to 14 men about 10 minutes into the second half and that’s when the floodgates opened. Clarke scored again and completed a hat-trick shortly after that. With a 34-3 lead, the Aucklanders began to celebrate their certain victory.

AJ Lam got one more try on the board for the home side as they held on for a big win. The Chiefs have been very good once again this season, and while the pain of defeat was clear to see on the faces of the playing group and coaches, there are some lessons to learn.

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“I don’t want to be sitting here every year talking about us losing a final. It sucks,” McMillan explained.

“It takes a lot of effort and hard work to get to a final. Plenty of teams are sitting at home wishing they were here but we feel like we earned the right to be here, we just encountered a better team on the day.

“We had maybe, lucky to get 30 per cent of possession, a lot of that was in the wrong parts of the field. A lot of that we contributed to our own inaccuracy and just with that sheer weight of possession it starts to take its toll.

“300, nearly close to 300 tackle and maybe they make, I don’t know, 70 or 80… just didn’t fire enough bullets to put pressure back on them.

“Give credit to Vern [Cotter] because he’s come here, he’s recognised the athletes that he’s got and he’s flipped the script on the way the Blues have traditionally played and it’s paid huge dividends. We tip our hat to them for that.”

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Comments

9 Comments
V
Villi Bill 26 days ago

One thing chiefs are good at, getting pumped in finals 🤣🤣 2009 loss to bulls, now this. And of course, whenever they lose its always the refs fault.

Guess it was the refs fault for shooter becoming invisible.

Chiefs mana for you 🤣🤣

D
David 26 days ago

Hopefully the Chiefs do not panic and adopt the NH style, like AKL. The Chiefs have a well earned reputation for innovative, open and creative play and that needs to continue for the good of NZ rugby, the players development and especially rugby fans. There are far too many dull, predictable, one dimensional teams around without forming another one.

U
Utiku Old Boy 27 days ago

McMillan is a good coach and the team has skills across the board with a good culture. Perhaps the Semi (Vs Canes) win took more out of them but the Blues could not be denied. Big credit to Cotter and his coaching team.

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finn 4 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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