Rugby: Four things the Chiefs have got right

By Dylan Cleaver

Liam Messam is having one of his most consistent seasons. Photo / Getty Images
Liam Messam is having one of his most consistent seasons. Photo / Getty Images

Big names have added bite to this side, but some of the youngsters are more than pulling their weight.

1. Recruitment
From assembling a coaching team to signing a number of under-the-radar players, the Chiefs have done a magnificent job of putting a team together (as opposed to their more fancied rivals to the north).

The big names - Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams - have taken a burden on their shoulders, but no more so than youngsters such as Ben Tameifuna and Brodie Retallick.

It's not something you can get away with doing every year, but the large influx of players has added some bite to those who stayed. Loose forwards Liam Messam and Tanerau Latimer are having their most consistent seasons, the threat of somebody like Sam Cane no doubt sharpening their survival instincts.

Wayne Smith has taken a lot of the plaudits for the Chiefs improvement, but he is at pains to say that he has come into the "environment" - that cursed word - and learned off the others.

"Dave Rennie's a pretty special sort of person. He's got a great personality to be a coach. He creates an environment that allows people to be themselves. It's a vibrant environment, that's the best way of putting it," Smith said.

"Tom Coventry is hugely skilled in the forward area but also in one-on-ones, I've learned a lot from how he operates there with individual players.

"Andrew Strawbridge has got a lot of ideas about footwork and skill development."

2. Game plan
If you thought the Chiefs would carve the odd opponent up, but might struggle to contain others, you'd be part of a large club.

As it turns out, the million-dollar backline has only kicked into gear in fits and bursts, most notably the first half against the Blues and the final quarter of the clash with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

This is a campaign built upon a defensive foundation. The Chiefs have conceded nine tries in nine games (loosehead prop Sona Taumalolo has scored seven himself). You're not going to lose many games that way unless your discipline is terrible.

3. Selection
There's a method to everything they do here.

They rotate their hookers and try to give their loose forwards the odd breather, but otherwise there has been an emphasis on building combinations.

If Brendon Leonard's hammy hadn't gone ping in round one, along with the arm and calf of props Ben Afeaki and Toby Smith respectfully, we might have seen a lot more movement from week to week, but those injuries might have proved to be a blessing in disguise.

Tameifuna's development is miles ahead of where they expected it to be and halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow has had the opportunity to add layers of maturity and decision-making to his game-breaking skills (he's not quite there yet it has to be noted).

Most notably, they've broken the mould in that they drop players because they've performed poorly and are not afraid to say so. That's a rarity in modern rugby.

Fritz Lee was dropped after a poor match against the Highlanders and Robbie Robinson was demoted after an ordinary trot that culminated in a bad game against the Force.

4. Goal-kicking
Never under-estimate the importance of a good goalkicker.

When Rennie recruited Cruden, Chiefs fans knew they were getting an exciting talent who had proven himself an elusive ball-runner and capable game manager. They probably had no idea they were getting such a good goalkicker.

Only Johan Goosen (48) and Morne Steyn (47) have bettered or matched his 47 goals and of those who have taken at least 30 attempts, only James O'Connor (87), Goosen (86) Tom Taylor (85) are going at better than his 81 per cent success rate.

And one thing they haven't done: Won anything important
Yes, they're a nice story. Yes, they deserve the back-slapping but the Crusaders are peaking nicely and guess what, they've got seven titles worth of pedigree behind them.

Even the hapless Blues, the butt of watercooler mockery, have three titles.

The Chiefs have won nothing and hot streaks will count for little in late July and, with a little luck, August 4.

"We're trying to be world-class and we need to be world-class to win this competition," Smith said.

- NZ Herald

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