Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: Chiefs must regroup fast after back-to-back losses

Another loss for the Chiefs, and, while it's not crisis time for the defending champions, they must regroup quickly. Photo / Getty Images.
Another loss for the Chiefs, and, while it's not crisis time for the defending champions, they must regroup quickly. Photo / Getty Images.

Another loss for the Chiefs, and, while it's not crisis time for the defending champions, they must regroup quickly following their latest blow, a 25-20 defeat by the Waratahs in Sydney.

Like during their loss to the Reds in Hamilton a week ago, the Chiefs had their opportunities against the Waratahs at Allianz Stadium, although they were more limited.

This time it wasn't Quade Cooper and Will Genia doing the damage, but another high-profile player, Israel Folau, an supremely athletic code-hopping fullback who plucked the ball from the air for a try and was excellent in cover defence, although it was his missed one-on-one tackle which allowed replacement Gareth Anscombe to score the Chiefs' first try in the second half.

Folau's presence highlighted how much the Chiefs are missing Sonny Bill Williams, their X-factor player of last year.

The Sydney-siders, bouyed by an excellent start in which they scored two tries and took a 15-0 lead to halftime, were more urgent and more intelligent, a worry for the Chiefs' leadership group as the Reds also had the upper hand in these areas.

What to do about a stuttering attack which, following the team's return from South Africa, has lost its mojo in battling victories over the Highlanders and Blues and defeats to the Reds and Waratahs?

An ever-changing backline combination which has seen Bundee Aki, Richard Kahui, Tim Nanai-Williams and Charlie Ngatai all play in the midfield in various roles, could be on factor, but more likely is the way the forwards are failing to put their side on the front foot like they did last year.

They are missing the injured hard-working lock and captain Craig Clarke, but they have enough talent and experience in Brodie Retallick, Hika Elliot, Pauliasi Manu, Ben Tameifuna and excellent loose forwards Liam Messam, Sam Cane and Tanerau Latimer to put opposing packs away. Breakdown penalties are costing them - referee Craig Joubert regularly punished them - and Dave Rennie's men appear confused and unwilling to commit for fear of offending.

There was very little line speed on defence, especially in the first half, which has been a hallmark of this Chiefs team under the direction of former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith.

Holes are regularly appearing - replacement prop John Ulugia went through one with three minutes remaining to allow the Waratahs to regain the lead they momentarily lost when his counterpart Tameifuna scored only minutes earlier.

Another Waratahs prop, Benn Robinson, also sailed through a large hole in the first half. Adam Ashley-Cooper broke through Brendon Leonard and Aaron Cruden to set up Cam Crawford's opener for the Waratahs. These breaches were extremely rare last season for the defending champions, who have now lost the New Zealand conference lead to the Blues.

Their next match is against the Sharks in Hamilton, a replay of last year's final.

Coach Rennie said he would be disappointed if a response wasn't forthcoming against the Waratahs following the Reds reverse so one can only manage his displeasure at this disjointed, mistake-ridden effort.

The Chiefs lost two matches in a row last year - against the Crusaders and Hurricanes in their two final regular season matches before they lifted a notch in the semifinal and final.

One point from two matches means the Chiefs have to strike back and fast.


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Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby writer Patrick McKendry began his journalism career 20 years ago and has worked in newspapers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He worked in a communications role on his return here before joining APN before the 2011 World Cup.

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