Friday night’s Super Rugby Aotearoa match in Hamilton will see the second-placed Chiefs take on the visiting Hurricanes, who are wallowing in last position on the ladder – but that doesn’t mean Clayton McMillan is expecting an easy time of things.
The Chiefs, despite being on the cusp of earning a spot in the Aotearoa final, have struggled heroically for all four of their wins this season.
In only one of their victories were they leading at halftime, while the winning points in all their matches came in the final five minutes.
Damian McKenzie was the man of the hour in their final three games, scoring a try in the final play of the game to best the Blues, kicking a golden-point penalty against the Highlanders, and managing another long-range kick against the Crusaders to knock over the defending champions.
It’s a sign of the mammoth belief within the side that they’ve come out on top in all of their last four matches.
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The Hurricanes, meanwhile, haven’t been quite so successful.
The Wellington-based side have played six matches this year but managed just a solitary win against the Highlanders. Were it not for their close losses at the hands of the Chiefs (who came back from a 19-point deficit) and Crusaders (who stole the match in extra-time), they could still be challenging for a spot in the final.
Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan has acknowledged as such, suggesting that the Hurricanes certainly won’t be easy beats on Friday night.
“I think they’ve been really unlucky,” he said. “Just like we’ve probably been lucky, to a certain extent.
“We’ve won some games at the death – a lot of games at the death. What we learned last year is that it could easily go the other way.”
“In a way we hit rock bottom and last year’s review made us look deep into what’s happening within this whole environment.”@RealMikePulman spoke with Clayton McMillan and Anton Lienert-Brown about the Chiefs' transformation into title contenders.https://t.co/15k2aZGVXn
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) April 21, 2021
Under Warren Gatland’s rule in 2020, the Chiefs suffered nine straight loss to Kiwi teams to round out the season – six by seven or fewer points.
Whether it was questionable refereeing calls, an inability to handle the pressure or just dumb luck, the Chiefs found themselves on the wrong side of the ledger time and time again.
That’s not a dissimilar situation that the Hurricanes have found themselves in this season, according to McMillan.
“I think the Hurricanes, to a certain extent, are probably feeling the same way that we probably felt last year,” he said, “but I was hugely impressed with [our] effort against the Hurricanes [in] one of those games that we were talking about, that could have easily gone their way.”
A bonus point win for the Chiefs on Friday would cement their spot in the grand final but that will be an incredibly tough ask. Their last bonus point win came against the Waratahs in Wollongong early last year while they’ve not secured a winning bonus point against a New Zealand side since March of 2017.
Still, confidence is high amongst the squad and their four-game win-streak has the team in a good mood ahead of the Friday night clash.
“When you win, everything becomes easier,” McMillan said. “The environment becomes easier, it becomes easier to talk to you guys [the media] – everything becomes easier. But it is a fine line between winning and losing.”
Friday’s match kicks off at 7:05pm NZT from FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton.
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