Rugby: Brumbies will hold no fear for champs in rematch of last year's final after recent showings

By Kris Shannon

Tim Nanai-Williams of the Chiefs is tackled during the round 11 Super Rugby match between the Brumbies and the Chiefs at Canberra Stadium. Photo / Getty Images
Tim Nanai-Williams of the Chiefs is tackled during the round 11 Super Rugby match between the Brumbies and the Chiefs at Canberra Stadium. Photo / Getty Images

It can hardly be called a turning point but the Chiefs have come a long way since being humbled by the Brumbies in April.

Ahead of Saturday night's qualifier in Canberra, with the winner facing a possible semifinal trip to Christchurch, the Chiefs can be buoyed by the gains they have made since the 41-23 loss on Anzac Day.

That result was probably the nadir in the defending champions' early season struggles, leaving them with only one win in six games and facing a huge gap in quality when compared with the top tier of the competition.

And, although there were more defeats to come, including a heavier loss against the Hurricanes, the Chiefs have clearly reduced that gap to more manageable proportions.

As such, the Brumbies will hold no fear for the visitors in a rematch of last year's grand final, with the Chiefs safe in the knowledge they possess the ability to advance and continue their search for a third straight title.

It's a prospect that appeared unlikely, to say the least, three months ago. Those Chiefs were disorganised in attack, with any promising play undone by errors and infringements, while there was none of the defensive steel that saw them end the Blues' unbeaten streak at Eden Park on Friday. The Brumbies emerged as five-tries-to-two victors and, if some of their supremacy came against 14 men after James Lowe was sin-binned, it was a margin that felt a fair reflection of the disparity between the two teams.

The Chiefs' attacking malaise continued through a lack of imagination and a surfeit of handling errors, with seven first-half penalties compounding the visitors' problems.

Many of those problems have been eased in the intervening period and the Brumbies will find their opponents a different prospect in the playoffs. And much of that, of course, will be about the presence of Aaron Cruden.

The Chiefs' talisman missed the April match through injury and, since playing his way into form while wearing the black jersey, he provides a completely different complexion to his side's work with ball in hand.

Cruden at No 10 is just one position in which the Chiefs are now more settled, with only one injury-enforced change in the wins over the Hurricanes and Blues that saved their season.

There is little reason to think Dave Rennie will tinker now, meaning there is every reason for the Brumbies to be concerned.

- APNZ

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