'We'll be gone': Chiefs pull pin on Super Rugby Trans-Tasman chances
Losing in a league is tough to take for any side used to success, but in a competition that is most definitely a sprint as opposed to a marathon, losses can mean an abrupt end to long-held dreams of title honours.
The Chiefs in the wake of their loss to the Reds on Saturday night might just be feeling that disappointment, as despite registering a losing bonus point, now face a distinctly uphill battle in order to reach their ultimate goal. Indeed, the result in the eyes of captain Brad Weber and coach Clayton McMillan served to all but end the Chiefs’ hopes of competing in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final.
Hampered by the loss of two of their men early on to disciplinary infringements, the Chiefs nearly turned around a 40-8 deficit, dropping the ball in the dying seconds as they looked to work their way up the field and handing the Reds, who showed attacking flair and tempo all night, their first win in the competition. Conversely, in claiming the unenviable title of first New Zealand scalp in the competition, the Chiefs are now left fourth in the table, with the Highlanders and Rebels still to play on Sunday evening in Sydney.
Captain Brad Weber was relatively upbeat about his team’s performance post-match, the Chiefs showing pluck and nerve in nearly being able to steal what would have been an epic comeback victory.
“It’s tough when you’re down a couple of men,” commented Weber. “You have to work a bit harder but it would have been a hell of a story to be able to tell if we’d come back from that point and been able to win it. If the game was a couple of minutes longer maybe we would have done it, so the challenge was actually quite exciting for the group that was still out there, the messaging was great, there was never a time when anyone didn’t believe and it would have been a cool story to tell but just short.”
However Weber was ultimately realistic about his team’s prospects from this point onwards, acknowledging that the Chiefs destiny was no longer solely in their own hands, instead having to rely on the results of their Super Rugby Aotearoa counterparts for a shot at the final.
“It probably sets us back,” Weber said. “We’ve probably no chance of making the final now I imagine. I can’t see three of the other four New Zealand teams losing a game from here personally, which we’ll need.”
McMillan was equally as certain of the team’s fate as his captain calling the loss “terminal” to the Chiefs title challenge and commenting that it would likely take a “minor miracle” for the Chiefs to be able to contest the final.
Yet stranger things have happened. The Chiefs may potentially, if they register wins in their remaining games against the Rebels at home and the Waratahs away, post a 20 point total in the league standings – provided those wins also carry bonus points.
The table-topping Blues currently sit on a perfect 15 points yet face a now confident Reds side at the cauldron that is Suncorp next week. If the Reds can carry the positives over from this recent success then the table might start to look interesting come the business end of the season.
Equal at the top, also with full marks currently are the Hurricanes who face arguably the hardest test of all the New Zealand sides. First, there is the small matter of an away trip to Canberra to face a competitive Brumbies side eager to show their credentials followed by a home outing against the Super Rugby AU Champions, the Reds.
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McMillan and Weber may not pin as much hope on a Crusaders mistake but external factors might play their part disrupting travel in Round 5 to Victoria, depending on the state’s COVID-19 situation.
That leaves the Highlanders who after being moved away from Queenstown to Sydney this week to face the Rebels, still have matches to play against the Waratahs under the roof in Dunedin before a tricky Brumbies test in Canberra.
All this is to say that hope might still remain for the Chiefs. A final appearance would of course require at least three of those sides to slip up and with such a different run of games for each franchise it really is anyone’s guess as to where those losses might come from – if at all. Arguably, all the Chiefs may do now is regroup and showcase the same sort of rugby that saw them make the Super Rugby Aotearoa final back at the start of May.
“It’s not in our nature to give up,” remarked Weber. “Luckily we still get two chances to play and hopefully we can still play a pretty cool brand of footy that we’ve enjoyed playing with each other all year. Why not go out with a bang these next couple of weeks.”
McMillan also was assured that his team would fight to the end. “If you’ve watched any of the New Zealand competition, we’ve never had anything our own way, we’re scrappers, we fight for everything and we’re disappointed…but we’ve got a really young squad and we need to learn the lessons that were learned tonight and come back better.”
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