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'We're just not a good enough team to be operating with 14 men'

By Tom Vinicombe
Sam Cane. (Photo by Aaron Gillions/Photosport)

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The Chiefs are sitting pretty on four wins from six matches ahead of Saturday night’s clash with the Blues and Clayton McMillan has tipped his hat to two areas where his men have excelled so far in 2022.

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After seven rounds of action, the Chiefs remain the least penalised team in the entirety of the competition, with just 30 infringements to their name. In fact, the five New Zealand franchises are the least penalised teams in the competition with the Highlanders the worst of that lot, copping 47 penalties prior to Friday evening’s win over Moana Pasifika. At the other end of the spectrum, the Waratahs have incurred 78 infractions.

Alongside the Highlanders, the Chiefs are one of two teams yet to concede any yellow or red cards throughout the season, despite 42 being dished out over 91 matches to date.

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

“There’s no wood around here for me to touch so I don’t know if I really want to answer that,” McMillan joked when asked about the Chiefs’ minimal penalty count to date.

“Yep, we do work hard on our discipline. We learnt some really harsh lessons pre-season, particularly around the breakdown and making really sound decisions there and we feel like we’ve made some real progress. We’re just not a good enough team to be operating with 14 men out on the field so we’ll do everything we can to keep painting positive pictures.”

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The Chiefs copped plenty of blasts of the whistle during their pre-season encounters with the Blues, Highlanders and Moana Pasifika, with Sam Cane sin-binned against the Blues for too many team penalties at the breakdown – although the Chiefs captain wasn’t necessarily in agreement with referee Paul Williams over the decision.

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“I talked to Paul after the game, I think we’re both going to go have a look at the video, get back to each other on that one,” he quipped after the match.

“If we are contesting the breakdown it will be trying to show good pictures, supporting our body weight and pulling up on the balls,” he said of the Chiefs’ approach to the breakdown.

Perhaps the reason why the Chiefs have managed to maintain their discipline during the regular season comes down to the other area where McMillan’s men have performed so well: retaining possession of the ball.

Only once this year – against the Crusaders in Hamilton two weekends ago – have the Chiefs ended a match with less ball than their opposition, which has been crucial in constructing tries thanks to an apparent lack of interest from other teams in providing the Chiefs with set-piece platforms to work from.

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“We’ve been forced into [holding onto the ball] a little bit,” McMillan said in the build-up to Saturday’s clash with the Blues. “We’ve found over the last couple of weeks that teams are prepared to kick the ball and keep it in against us so we haven’t had a lot of lineout strikes. Lineout strikes are one of the areas of the game where teams are scoring a lot of tries off that start of possession. Maybe that’s a tip to our striking ability from those teams but we’ve had to adjust.

“The kick-receipt and counter-attack is an opportunity to do that and as I said last week after the game, if you can hold onto the ball for long periods of time – which requires a good engine, a good skill-set, discipline, winning those races consistently – then you do give yourself a decent chance of opening up the opposition or them infringing you to get a penalty.”

Saturday night’s fixture between the Chiefs and Blues will kick off at 7:05pm NZT from Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.

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