In line with my thinking over the last couple of weeks Gregor Paul in today’s NZ Herald predicts that the Chiefs will be the S15 champions this year.
It’s bold prediction time – the Chiefs are going to be crowned Super Rugby champions. They might not win on Friday, but they are going to squeeze in as what the Australians would call the minor premiership winners and with home advantage in the knock-out rounds, they will, finally, win the title.
It actually might not even be that bold a prediction. The Chiefs have looked like potential champions for some time – from round two in fact. It’s just that their dubious history and wrongly held perceptions about their tight five prevented everyone from seeing it.
I thought so too. I had my eye on the Chiefs from the very first match this year because of coach Dave Rennie (our local coach here in the Manawtu that moved to Hamilton at the end of last year). Dave Rennie is the first coach that I saw provoking a standing applause from spectators in the pavilion. This happen end of last year when Dave left the pavilion after the Turbo’s have beaten the Otago side (I think it was Otago can’t really remember which one it was). That win took them into the final rounds of the local competition. It was only Rennie’s second year of coaching a senior side and he took the Turbo’s from nowhere to being a contender in the semi-finals. Naturally I was keen to see if he could make the step-up to the big time (S15) and what a splendid job he did with the Chiefs this year.
I though the addition of Wayne Smit to his coaching group was a great move. Smit is outstanding both as an individual and coach; one of the most knowledgeable coaches around and with his current All Black experience truly an asset for any S15 team. Gregor Paul continues:
The Chiefs have never been a solid bet in the past. They were for years and years a bit of a basket case, only making their first semifinal in 2004 and in 16 years they have made the last four only twice – their other appearance coming in 2009 when they pushed on to the final where they were obliterated by the Bulls.
Paul in essence base his prediction on the improvements the Chiefs have shown in the tight five and writes:
……. their tight five, far from being a liability, are perhaps the core strength of the team. Toby Smith is a bruising loose-head now firmly on the All Blacks’ radar and Ben Tameifuna magically holds on for 80 minutes these days and at 140kg, doesn’t tend to be easy to shift in the scrums. Sona Taumalolo is everyone’s favourite prop – he does the lot, including score tries with that incredible ability of his to burrow over from short range.
Mo Schwalger at hooker is a classic Dave Rennie find – tough, durable, capable, accurate and willing to empty himself while Hika Elliot is maturing into a consistently good performer. Craig Clarke does what a lock should do and Brodie Retallick is much the same but with a bit more oomph and panache.
A good group has been turned into an outstanding group by the coaching of Tom Coventry whose genius is to keep things simple – remind the forwards they are forwards and insist they only do things forwards do and go places forwards go.
The rest of the Chiefs side doesn’t really need much explanation – they have a mobile, dynamic clutch of loose forwards, a terrific inside back combination a world class presence in their midfield and a back three that has been sharper and more effective than originally predicted.
Keeping the whole thing together is a superb coaching team who have fostered belief, discipline and modesty. That’s a winning package and ask this: if not the Chiefs, then which team?
Good observations. I especially like the following remark: … remind the forwards they are forwards and insist they only do things forwards do and go places forwards go”. I wish someone could somehow communicate this massage to Adrian Strauss who keeps on showing up in the backline. If he was a centre he would have been selected in that position in the first place.
I also thought his question towards the end of the piece pasted above (if not the Chiefs, then which team?) to be relevant.
The chiefs will probably end at the top of the log and that will make it extremely hard for any of the South African team to beat them in the play-offs. The Stormers he writes (and I tend too agree) rely far too much on defence and their inability to use the ball might cost them in the final rounds.
Smith puts it down to the Chiefs’ ability to link strong defence with strong attack better than any other team in Super Rugby. “I think the most pleasing thing is the connection between the attack and defence. So if you look at the stats we’re fourth best attacking team on the ladder and fourth best defensive team on the ladder, and there’s no other team close to that.”
The Stormers are great on defence but were only the 12th best attacking team in terms of points scored. The best attacking team, the Hurricanes, were only the 10th best defensive team.
”We’ve always looked at the challenge as being able to develop both, and often when you focus on one the other drops off,” Smith said. “We’ve had that now and again this year where we’ve put extra focus on attack and the defence has dropped off or vice versa, but getting that growth in both units together is pretty important.”
Developing an attacking mindset is important according to Smit but I reckon the Chiefs are a bit too reliant on Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams. Shutting them out on defence might be key to any team wanting to beat the Chiefs this year.
The Bulls have had mediocre results on tour this year (and previously) so I can’t see them traveling to Hamilton and beating the chiefs at home.
The Crusaders are the only other real contender as neither the Brumbies nor Sharks or Reds looked like teams that could win the tournament this year.
Personally I would like to see as South African team win the S15 trophy this year but would not mind if none of the teams make to the final. That will give the top players a bit more recovery time before the four nation test series start.