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'We've been there before': Chiefs have key to besting Crusaders

By Tom Vinicombe
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The last time the Chiefs squared off with the Crusaders in Christchurch was during last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa final and but for a strangely off night with the boot from Damian McKenzie, the visitors could have scored themselves a shock win.

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The Chiefs dominated territory and possession and more than matched up to their opposition at the set-pice but three missed penalties from McKenzie – who had saved the Chiefs many blushes throughout the season with his clutch late-game plays – ultimately proved costly, as did the Hamiltonians inability to make the most of sin-binnings to Codie Taylor and Sevu Reece.

At the end of the day, the Crusaders dynasty marched on while the Chiefs were to left to rue what could have been.

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10 months on, and a case of goal-kicking yips against the Blues may have head coach Clayton McMillan more than a little worried ahead of his side’s upcoming rematch with the Crusaders.

Josh Ioane and Bryn Gatland missed 11 points off the tee on Saturday, with the Chiefs’ succumbing 24-22 at Eden Park despite being the better team for much of the match. A strong display from Ioane or Gatland could have certainly tipped the result in the Chiefs’ favour but as suggested by assistant coach and former goal-kicking maestro David Hill, there were other areas where the team let themselves down.

“We’re frustrated with a couple of our inaccuracies exiting and just in general play but it was more a frustrating experience going through the review and realising that we weren’t far away and we had opportunities to win it in the first half and in the second half,” Hill said on Tuesday. “It’s pretty much on us to improve in a lot of areas but happy with the review.

“It revealed some good areas that we need to improve in but there was a lot of positive stuff there, a lot of stuff that we have been working on and just didn’t quite nail it.”

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Eyeing up this weekend’s clash with the Crusaders, Hill suggested that last year’s loss in the Super Rugby Aotearoa final confirmed exactly what the Chiefs had always known about their superlative opposition.

“It just affirms that you need your set-piece to be rock-solid,” he said. “You need to be disciplined, you need to be on your game for the whole 80 minutes.

“[They’re] a great team, great players, great coaches. No surprises there.

“Lessons are, really, that we’ve been there before, we’ve been in the game for 50, 60 minutes, but we just need to stay in it for as long as possible and we know that we need all 23 guys to turn up ready to play. If we do all that and we give ourselves a chance to be in the fight in the last 10 minutes, then that’s what we’re after.”

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Seven changes were made to the starting line-up between the Chiefs’ opening two matches of the Super Rugby Pacific season and it wouldn’t surprise to see a few more adjustments this week as McMillan looks to both utilise as much of the squad as possible earlier in the season, and find some winnings combinations in the areas where the team boasts the most depth.

Another shake-up in the locks and loose forwards is expected – although Hill indicated that it might still be too early to welcome back any of the more specialist blindside flanker options this week after using All Blacks second-rower Tupou Vaa’i in that role against the Blues.

“A couple of guys [are] hopefully not too far away from returning in the loose forwards,” he said. “Guys sort of running around the field looking like they’re not too far away so hopefully, we get a few players back pretty soon.

“But comfortable with the job Tupou did, comfortable with the guys we’ve got in the squad – Kaylum Boshier, Tom Florence – guys that can fill multiple positions; Naitoa could do a job there. Again, feel like we’ve got good depth through the squad that we can cover injuries when they arrive.”

Elsewhere, midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown is due a start after making his return to play off the bench against the Blues while some tinkering in the outside backs is also inevitable.

The Chiefs will take on the Crusaders on Saturday evening at 7:05pm NZT from Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch.

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