Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Chiefs' stats a horror show

Pat McCabe of the Brumbies runs into some strong Chiefs defence in Canberra. Photo / Getty Images
Pat McCabe of the Brumbies runs into some strong Chiefs defence in Canberra. Photo / Getty Images

Even though Henry Speight has been busy with the Brumbies for a while now, you still wanted to rub your eyes.

The wing began his rugby in the Waikato then scarpered across the Ditch, when they were the only ones offering a Super Rugby contract, while still playing in the ITM Cup in 2011.

Speight bobbed and weaved through contract and eligibility obligations just as he did in Canberra on Saturday when he taunted the Chiefs with his speed, power and agility.

His forays accounted for large chunks of the horror show on the Chiefs' stats sheet which showed they missed about 40 tackles as their search for a third Super 15 title expired.

The Chiefs made the playoffs after some determined late derby work against the Hurricanes and Blues but that staunch resolve was absent for much of the first half of their sudden-death quarter-final.

With Tim Nanai-Williams in the bin early for a professional foul, the Brumbies pounced with two converted tries.

It was a huge springboard given more assistance when Jesse Mogg scored from what appeared to be a forward pass.

No matter. The Chiefs fell off tackles and lacked the venom usually associated with their character.

Curiously, referee Craig Joubert did not sinbin a Brumbies player for lying in a ruck although he may have been sidetracked because Chiefs midfielder Bundee Aki scored.

Not long after Speight was sent away for a rest because of a similar offence, and with the Canberra timepiece clicking over 55 minutes the scores were level.

All the momentum was with the Chiefs as the Brumbies started to stare at each other in wonder.

They were in a world of doubt. Minds began recalling the 2013 final when they coughed up a lead and the title.

They had made most of the play this time and been reined in. Had they ceded their advantage, how were they going to get their game back on track? They were crumbling and the Chiefs had raised their intensity.

Anxiety creased the faces of the Brumbies as they looked for some help from the sidelines or coaching box while the Chiefs ploughed on with their self-belief growing as the temperatures dipped.

Aaron Cruden began to use inside passes which unpicked tiring defenders and gathered his side's momentum. They'd had a reprieve after a poor start and the Brumbies were under the cosh.

They searched the sidelines and coaches' box for guidance as the final quarter began. A lineout offered the remedy. Catch, drive, reset, drive and over. Advantage Brumbies and a halt to the points slide.

They had the lead again and backed their defence although James Lowe threatened to unpick that until he ran out of puff or belief in a long solo raid.

Possession for the Chiefs withered and they could not create sustained challenges just off the rucks. They needed a touchdown close to the sticks but a late sideline try was their reward and too far out for a positive conversion.

The match had been a bit like their season - promising and patchy. They had made the finals once more, they had been spirited in their title defence but in this campaign, execution and a few people were missing.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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