Rugby: Chiefs looking for more than win

By Kris Shannon

Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

The Chiefs have designs of far greater significance than merely winning the match when they meet the Waratahs this afternoon.

Four competition points are a necessity, yes, but the defending champions are hoping the clash in New Plymouth will double as a turning point in their uneven season.

The Chiefs enjoyed something similar last year, at almost the same stage of the competition, when they hosted the Crusaders and claimed a hard-fought 28-19 victory to create some breathing room atop the New Zealand Conference.

That encounter was the catalyst for the Chiefs clinching home advantage throughout the playoffs and, while a win over the Waratahs may be insufficient to lift them to top spot this weekend, the champs hope today's match will have a similar effect.

"Every season had a turning point," said assistant coach Wayne Smith. "Last year it was the Crusaders [in Hamilton], when we were playing in different colour jerseys for WaiKids. It was a huge game and gave us a lot of confidence.

"That's what we're looking for this week. We're the champions and we've won two in a row - that respect takes a long time to earn and you lose it bloody quickly. We realise that we've got to get on the path to getting it back again."

The Chiefs find themselves on the path due to last week's thumping by the Hurricanes, probably the worst loss of Dave Rennie's reign in Hamilton. It hardly needed to be said but Smith admitted the Chiefs looked nothing like champions in that match, though he believed they could quickly regain that appearance.

There were, after all, positive signs in their victory over the Blues before the bye, a game that showcased the best of the Chiefs' fearsome attack.

"We thought we were going pretty well," Smith said. "We can win [the competition] - there's no doubt about that - but now's the time to make our mark.

"I know a lot of people don't feel like that but we do. So that's what we're going to have a crack at doing."

A recovered Aaron Cruden being back in the fold would seem to support that assertion. In his first start since April 6, Cruden is under pressure to perform and withstand the challenge of Beauden Barrett for the All Blacks' No 10 jersey, while his side also desperately need his direction.

Cruden scored 18 of his side's points in that pivotal victory over the Crusaders a year ago.

- APNZ

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