Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Chiefs' set-piece problems could haunt them in semis

Kieran Read of the Crusaders dives over to score. Picture / Getty Images.
Kieran Read of the Crusaders dives over to score. Picture / Getty Images.

Troubles for the Chiefs at set-piece - that had a familiar sound, or perhaps it was just an unpleasant flashback.

Those in and around the franchise will paint the issues as a one-off, a confluence of problems which caught up with them as they faced a blowtorch inspection from an all-All Black pack of Crusader forwards.

The late exit through illness of captain Craig Clarke, who calls the lineouts and boosts the second row scrum power with Brodie Retallick, did not help. Nor did the absence of No 8 Kane Thompson who has been dealing with a dodgy back.

The Chiefs rarely looked in the match, their attacking intent was suppressed with the squeeze coming from their rivals' pack, backed by the organisation of Andy Ellis and Daniel Carter. Yet with more patience and vision in the last minutes of the match, they could have claimed a draw.

Coach Dave Rennie nodded to the set-piece issues but did not think they were enduring.

"It is not a disaster. Our set-piece has been pretty solid all year and we play a lot of our footy off set-piece obviously, so that was disrupted. We had trouble getting things going .

"We'll have to tweak things this week against the Hurricanes.

"That is the thing at this level. You are being examined carefully and they [Crusaders] did a good job on us and we need to make some subtle adjustments if we end up playing them again."

Rennie said a bonus-point away win against the Hurricanes on Friday would clear the Chiefs for an assault on the playoffs at Waikato Stadium.

"That would do it for us but we know the Hurricanes want those points too, so it should be a hell of a game," he said.

The Chiefs had fallen well behind at 20-6 against the Crusaders but when they claimed the ball they were able to gain field position and create chances. They felt if they could hold possession they could ramp up the pressure even on such an organised side as the Crusaders and that panned out.

"When you lose as many lineouts as that [six] and a couple of key scrums, they were able to stifle our set-piece," he said. "But we could take a lot of heart from the way we hung in there and almost stole a draw at the end.

"We should have, we had number of opportunities to let the ball go."

They would get another chance to rectify the issues. The match was not the grand final and a summary would show the Crusaders had to win while the Chiefs did not play well but were not far off.

They had plans to unlock the congested Crusaders' defence but were unable to use those and needed to sort that out next time.

"But we got a point, we have a home semi and that is one box we can tick," Rennie said.

The Chiefs beat the Hurricanes 33-14 in their previous pool match in Hamilton, after returning from South Africa..

They had been able to shut down the Hurricanes' loosies and tie up possession to eliminate the sort of counter-attacking chances they devoured. They would need to once more because the Crusaders had dominated them in the set-piece and lost.

Rennie said their core game would not alter. They embraced the physical elements needed in any game and expected plenty more this week.

THE FINAL ROUND WHAT'S AT STAKE

The playoff picture became a little clearer after the weekend's games. The Highlanders were mathematically eliminated from the race despite running the Reds close in Brisbane. They finish with four points for the bye, but it will not be enough.

CHIEFS

Secured New Zealand conference in round 16 and results in round 17 mean they are guaranteed a top-two finish, a first-round bye and a home semifinal. They need five points at Wellington to ensure they finish first overall.

STORMERS

Secured the South African conference with their win and with it a playoff place and a top-three finish. One point next week will secure a top-two finish. The Stormers can finish first, but need one point more than the Chiefs manage, since they will hold the tiebreak on most wins.

BRUMBIES

One point will secure Australian conference, a playoff place and a top-three finish. They need the Stormers to lose and fail to take any points to try to get into the top two.

Only a loss with no points and a Reds five-pointer can stop them winning the Australian section.

CRUSADERS

Three points will secure a playoff place. They cannot finish higher than fourth - a win against the Force will ensure that is where they end up.

BULLS

Five points will secure a playoff place. They hold a narrowing differential advantage over the Sharks and both teams have an equal number of wins.

SHARKS

Five points will secure a playoff place. They need to match whatever the Bulls do next week and win by 18 points more to claim that tiebreaker on differential.

REDS

If they catch the Bulls or Sharks, they will have a tiebreak advantage on the most wins rule.

If they catch the Brumbies at the top of the Australian conference, the same applies. If the Reds cannot catch the Brumbies and take an automatic place, they do need one of the wildcard teams to slip up and fail to score four tries at the very least to make the playoffs.

HURRICANES

Need at least two of the teams ahead of them in the wildcard spots to slip up, as they do not hold the tiebreak against any of them.

The Hurricanes do not have as many wins as the Reds (first tie-break) and they have an inferior differential to both the Bulls (29 points worse off) and Sharks (8 points worse off).

- NZ Herald

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