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'We let ourselves and our supporters down': Chiefs out to make statement

By Tom Vinicombe
Alex Nankivell. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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Having smashed Moana Pasifika 59-12 at Mt Smart Stadium earlier in the season, the Chiefs will be hoping to secure another big win against the Pacific Islanders when they square off in one week’s time. If they can also get a win against the Blues in Hamilton on Saturday night, that will leave the Clayton McMillan-coached side sitting pretty heading into the trans-Tasman portion of the season.

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Two matches at home to round out their Kiwi derbies is not a bad position to be in but McMillan will be looking for a far more impressive performance against the Blues this weekend than they put out on the field against the Crusaders two weekends ago in what was their first match back at Waikato Stadium since May of last year.

With Covid forcing the Chiefs to spend the final three matches of last year’s campaign in Australia and the opening rounds of this season’s competition being hosted in Queenstown, the Chiefs went seven matches a row without playing in the Waikato and their homecoming late last month wasn’t exactly what Chiefs fans would have hoped for.

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Dan Carter identifies the keys to success for the All Blacks at next year’s Rugby World Cup.

After besting the Crusaders 24-21 in Christchurch earlier in the season, the Chiefs were outplayed by the same opposition in Hamilton and were thoroughly outclassed at the breakdown, eventually falling to a comprehensive 34-19 defeat. They also lost by a narrow margin to the Blues at Eden Park earlier this season, with Bryn Gatland missing a last-minute kick that could have changed the result, and McMillan will be hoping the Chiefs can turn around their fortunes at Waikato Stadium on Saturday night and amend two of 2022’s wrongs in one fell swoop.

“The Blues, they’re a quality side. They’ve got a great roster and a good coaching staff and they’ve been ticking away nicely,” McMillan said.

 

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“We felt like we definitely had our moments against them last time and despite the injuries that we’ve had, we feel we’re really well-placed to give them a good nudge this week on our own track, which is important to us because we felt like we let ourselves and our supporters down when we played the Crusaders at home after such a long lay-off and we owe it to them more than anything to show a clearer picture of our Chiefs identity.”

“We just lost a lot of races, particularly around the breakdown,” said McMillan of the Chiefs’ last defeat on their home patch. “We were just slow to the punch and there was a big focus for us last week and we saw some rapid improvements.

“We won’t rest on our laurels in that regard because the Blues are really combative and like to challenge in that space so we’ve just got to keep being honest there.”

The Chiefs have taken plenty of lessons out of their last three clashes against their traditional foes, including their narrow win over the Hurricanes in Wellington last weekend, where the home side scored two tries in the final 15 minutes of the match to bring themselves within a point of the Chiefs, who at one point had held a 15-point advantage.

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Somewhat ironically, it was the Chiefs who turned up the heat in the latter stages of their first clash with the Hurricanes last season to turn a 26-7 deficit at halftime into a 35-29 victory.

“I’ve learnt over the last sort of 18 months to never get comfortable, no matter how far you are in front,” McMillan said. “There’s plenty of evidence in games this year where teams have come back from what seems an impossible position to get up and win games so the lesson from that is you’ve just got to stay on the whole time because to have moments where you go to sleep will definitely result in the opposition taking that opportunity to get themselves back in the game.”

While the Chiefs nailed all their opportunities in the second half against the Hurricanes last year, the same couldn’t be said about their loss to the Blues earlier this season and McMillan has implored his men to capitalise when the chances inevitably arise at Waikato Stadium.

“You only get a few opportunities in games to win them and we had ours and we didn’t nail them and the Blues did and that’s why they won the game,” he said.

“What I can say about Blues and Chiefs fixtures is that we’re pretty close geographically, there’s been a real deeply entrenched rivalry long before I came here. It’s pretty evident when you walk through the doors that they’re games you get excited about. There’s a lot of friendships and we’ve got a lot of guys that live in Auckland or play for Auckland [teams] so there’s a familiarity there but there’s certainly no love lost.”

Saturday evening’s fixture will kick off at 7:05pm NZT.

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