Rugby: Chiefs sitting pretty with week to unwind

By Kris Shannon

Chiefs player Tim Nanai-Williams celebrates his try with teammate, Dwayne Sweeney. Photo / Alan Gibson
Chiefs player Tim Nanai-Williams celebrates his try with teammate, Dwayne Sweeney. Photo / Alan Gibson

Back in the top three and once again the competition's leading try scorers - this should be a rather relaxing bye week for the Chiefs.

Dave Rennie's men have certainly earned a week away from rugby, emerging from a gruelling stretch of nine straight games perfectly placed for the Super rugby stretch run.

The players still have training programmes across the next week but, sitting pretty atop the New Zealand conference, the champions will be able to unwind knowing their title defence is on track.

Friday night's statement victory over the Blues was the most dangerous the Chiefs' attack has appeared this season, while their defence wasn't bad, either.

They moved ahead of a Brumbies side who badly exposed them a fortnight earlier, left to lie a point behind the top-placed Sharks at the front end of the standings.

The Chiefs' four tries took to 35 their tally for the season, tied with the Hurricanes for the most. And ahead of the meeting between the competition's two highest-scoring attacks on Saturday week, there is little left for the Chiefs to amend.

"We're going to give the boys a week away," Rennie said. "It's a chance to mentally freshen up, then we'll have a big week preparing for the Hurricanes."

What they've done over the last fortnight is emerge from something of a mini-slump, one which had cast doubt over their three-peat credentials.

After being held to four tries across three games, the Chiefs have scored 10 from the last two, and the good news doesn't end there.

The Chiefs were already at their healthiest ahead of the bye, with "only" nine squad members missing the Blues match through injury. But the week off will allow at least Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Charlie Ngatai and, crucially, Aaron Cruden to return to fitness.

The attack will possess depth and its director, ready to expose a Hurri-canes defence that is the most porous among the competition's top half.

"I'm really rapt with the effort of our boys over the last couple of weeks," Rennie said. "They've fronted when we've needed to and we've scored 10 tries in the last couple of games, which has got our mojo back a little bit."

Fullback Tom Marshall was well placed to assess that claim. Marshall scored one of the Chiefs' tries, finishing a slaloming run from the outstanding Tim Nanai-Williams, but he credited the team's forward pack for the improvement on attack.

"Our forwards were huge - just the line speed and physicality," he said.

While they certainly laid the appropriate platform, the forwards' work at the set piece is probably one minor quibble for the champs.

The lineout has been demonstrably better in recent weeks but still ceded two from their own throw on Friday, while another couple of scrums were lost after a shaky outing last week against the Lions.

"This competition is very combative and that was an All Blacks front row out there," Rennie said.

"Our two Tongan boys really stepped up in that area. Pauliasi Manu has been incredibly dominant on the loosehead side, week after week, and [Ben Tameifuna] is a block."

That block, still just 22, has often been the senior man in the front row this season and Tameifuna's importance to the scrum is emphasised in starting every game bar one.

"We just had to stick to our guns and do what we do best - just stay tight and low," Rennie said.

"If the front row's doing the hard yards and going forward, then the boys feed off that energy."

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