Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Chiefs need to get back on warpath

The Chiefs need a pairing such as Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams to find the team's winning ways. Photo / Getty Images
The Chiefs need a pairing such as Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams to find the team's winning ways. Photo / Getty Images

Versatility was their key strength last year but the Chiefs have desperately missed specialists and consistency of selection in 2014.

Their lack of control, poise and ruthlessness has left them as a mid-to-long shot to even make the playoffs.

They are not out of the mix yet, but have lost the critical ability to control their destiny. If they are to stay alive, they have to beat the Hurricanes in Hamilton next weekend, and preferably take a bonus point, and then repeat the formula seven days later against the Blues in Auckland. If they do that, they may yet make the top six but it's questionable whether they can take 10 points from their next two games. It's questionable whether they can take five or even four.

Simply put - something's not right at the Chiefs.

They haven't got much authority or clinical edge. They have lost their defensive bite, lost their discipline and that energy to scramble and cover for each other.

They create chances and then squander them. They leave holes where they shouldn't, their set-piece is on-off and their general work is riddled with inaccuracy. How to fix it? Well, they have the answer but they won't be able to implement it this season. They need Sonny Bill Williams back at second-five.

They will be a better team when they have a direct running force in the middle of the field to keep them pushing over the gainline. They have missed Williams, or at least they have missed not having the same player or the same type of player in their midfield every week.

That was the key to their 2012 title. They had Aaron Cruden and Williams working in tandem close to the breakdown, directing and punching holes and the rest of their game flowed from there. They didn't have quite the same consistency last year but had enough to build confidence and rhythm.

This year, however, they have worked any number of different combinations and failed to find one that has gelled. They haven't had much either from Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who is understood to have played club rugby yesterday.

It's not too late for the Chiefs to save themselves in 2014 but they need to find some patience to hold the ball for longer. They need to find more linespeed on defence, be quicker and more accurate around the tackled ball and be prepared to play less rugby.

In short, they need to dissect the tape from Friday night's clash with the Highlanders and learn a little from their opponents.

The Highlanders now face their biggest game in years when they travel to Sydney next Sunday to play the Waratahs.

Victory for the Highlanders will all-but assure them of a playoffs spot but, more importantly, it will give the chasing New Zealand sides hope of leapfrogging ahead of the Australians and topping the overall table.

- Herald on Sunday

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