Richard Loe is a former All Black and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Richard Loe: Chiefs have squad to win title

Tawerau Kerr-Barlow of the Chiefs leaps over a maul. Photo / Getty Images
Tawerau Kerr-Barlow of the Chiefs leaps over a maul. Photo / Getty Images

The Chiefs sent out a big signal with that close win over the Bulls - that they are in the right place to win their first Super Rugby title.

They impressed me with their depth, their attitude, their fitness and the fact they have their heads in the right place to go and win something now. They look like they will win the New Zealand conference, even though they have hard derbies coming up against the Highlanders, the Hurricanes and the Crusaders, not to mention the Blues next weekend.

For depth, you can't go past the fact that they replaced their entire front row, off a bye, and the scrum was solid and the front rowers all played well. I don't mind admitting I thought it was a risky move but it came up trumps - as the Chiefs will now have it in their heads that it doesn't matter who plays from the squad, they can do the business.

What a big game from Ben Afeaki, back from a broken arm. He hasn't played much rugby at all and only one game at this level this season - but he was still hoeing into his defensive work at the end.

Ben Tameifuna has been the find of the season and has been drafted into that wider All Blacks squad, but I get the feeling he may struggle to get his place back in the Chiefs if Afeaki keeps playing like that.

Wayne Smith has got their defensive patterns right - and it's been that way all season. But what really impressed me was the attitude of the individual players. They were really committed and tore into the opposition big time.

They were also really going hard in the second half - I think they won that half 20-6 - and the Bulls were looking laboured by the end. That shows me that the Chiefs have got their fitness right.

They took this win well. They didn't panic or rush things; they just stuck to the plan in the second half and that win will give them mental strength - particularly after that loss to the Reds in Brisbane. If they can hang in there now, just as they hung in against the Bulls, they will gather more momentum from winning the conference and maybe the whole round-robin.

There were impressive games from prop Toby Smith, who really anchored the scrum, hooker Hika Elliott, flanker Tanerau Latimer, halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow and first five Aaron Cruden looked even more assured than he already has this season. Sonny Bill Williams showed why he is so important to this team now.

Just as the Crusaders built their team around Williams last year, so the Chiefs are doing so this season. He made some good bursts and offloads but it was his work off the ball that was telling. When Aseli Tikoirotuma scored his try, the Bulls defence was double-teaming Sonny Bill. As my old mate Kevin Greene, the Waikato and All Black halfback, used to say: "If they are worrying about you, they are leaving us alone."

Kerr-Barlow had a good game as well. He's a tenacious hombre and, while he may yet need some skills to be added to his passing game, his all-round game is impressive.

You can see the All Blacks of the future starting with someone like Aaron Smith or the halfback I really like - the Canes' TJ Perenara - but bringing on Kerr-Barlow in the second half, particularly if they have got a lead. He is a halfback who can change a game and I think he has a defensive game which rivals that of Jimmy Cowan or Justin Marshall. Just one word of caution on the Chiefs: the lineout. I thought the Bulls targeted Brodie Retallick and Craig Clarke there and a couple of times Retallick had the ball taken out of his hands at the top of his jump. His all-round game is very good - but some work needed there, I think.

- Herald on Sunday

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Richard Loe is a former All Black and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Richard Wyllie Loe was a renowned All Black forward prop who plied his trade for the New Zealand national team between 1987 and 1995. Loe was well known by fans and team mates alike as an ‘enforcer’ on the pitch, a player who balanced his abilities with the ball with a tough-tackling prowess and a penchant for physicality. During an outstanding career Richard Loe represented his country of birth in no less than three World Cups, assisting the All Blacks to a famous victory in 1987. Along with fellow team mate and captain Sean Fitzpatrick, Loe formed one of the most formidable forward lines ever to lead the All Blacks. Despite his sometimes overly physical dominance on the pitch, Loe is regarded by former team mates as being an exceptional character and professional. Following retirement from rugby Loe became a sport columnist for the New Zealand Herald, a position he still holds today.

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