Rugby: Cheetahs expected to aim for Chiefs' Achilles heel

By Kris Shannon

Tom Coventry. Photo / HBT
Tom Coventry. Photo / HBT

Chiefs forwards coach Tom Coventry knows opposition sides will target his team's lineout - it's exactly what he would do.

The defending champions' main weakness was exploited in the draw with the Bulls last weekend and Coventry expects it will again be tested against the Cheetahs on Sunday morning (NZT).

Last year the Chiefs were able to win the competition with the worst lineout success rate in the competition, and this season they sit atop the New Zealand conference despite their continuing struggles.

But it must be a matter of time until the malfunctions become costly, with opposing teams sure to devote pregame planning to making the most of the Chiefs' inferiority.

"If I was coaching a team to play the Chiefs I'd certainly be having a crack at that area of the game," Coventry said. "That's a given."

A cursory glance at this season's statistics will give the rest of the competition the same idea, with the champs ranking in the bottom two for lineouts won, lineouts lost and success rate.

Equally influential will be other teams' success from their own lineout when playing the Chiefs.

When the opposition can count on success from 89 per cent of their lineouts, they can build an attacking strategy around the set piece.

Just ask the Bulls, who scored two tries from rolling mauls formed from the lineout, the second of which, a penalty try, began with a drive from the 22.

They will not be alone in adopting the tactic, with the Cheetahs almost certain to follow their compatriots' lead.

"It's a big part of their game," Coventry said.

"They grow up with it [in South Africa]. We were lucky enough to have a university team train against us leading up to the Bulls match and even a university team showed their prowess at mauling against us.

"There are technical issues that we need to look at that are going to make us better at stopping it. A lot of it's attitude but it's a difficult thing to stop once it gets going."

That leaves the onus on the forwards and, as far as attitude is concerned, the team's leaders. Liam Messam is well aware of the improvements that must be made, meeting with his fellow forwards earlier in the week to discuss as much.

"Our set piece needs to be a lot better,'' he said. "That's something we addressed as a forward pack - finding ways and solutions to be better and give our backs some clean ball. The big lineout maul that the South Africans love to do, we need to have plans to dismantle that as quick as we can.''

Meanwhile, prop Ben Afeaki has been sent home after suffering a head injury in training that saw a recurrence of the concussion symptoms he suffered in the opening match of the season. He has been replaced by wider training group prop Nick Barrett.

Chiefs' lineout statistics:

Won: 8.3 (second-worst)
Lost: 3.5 (worst)
Success rate: 70 per cent (worst)

Teams' lineout statistics when playing Chiefs

Won: 12.5 (fifth)
Lost: 1.5 (third)
Success rate: 89 per cent (first)

- APNZ

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