The Chiefs haven't quite gone from sitting pretty to sitting ducks, but two losses in two weeks will give them plenty to think about as they prepare to host a Super Rugby semifinal.
Their consecutive losses to the Crusaders in Hamilton and Hurricanes in Wellington included misfortune - Chiefs coach Dave Rennie doesn't believe Dane Coles scored his late try at Westpac Stadium to steal the win for the home side (after it was awarded by the TMO), just as he doesn't think Andy Ellis scored at Waikato Stadium - but they also had some luck in their 28-25 defeat in the capital on Friday.
Prop Ben May's sinbinning for his tackle on Sonny Bill Williams was over the top and there was an unintentional obstruction by referee Jonathan Kaplan for Tawera Kerr-Barlow's try in the opening minutes.
From looking so resilient, perhaps surprisingly so, during the season, the two defeats have dropped the Chiefs from first on the table to second, the Stormers from Cape Town taking top spot by virtue of their 26-21 victory over the Rebels at Newlands.
It was a narrower than expected win over the competition lightweights and the Stormers again showed their Achilles heel on attack - they were outscored three tries to two and the men from Melbourne closed to 23-21 in the second half.
Both the Stormers and the Chiefs have a bye this weekend and host a semifinal the following week. The Stormers, who retain hosting rights through to the final if they get that far, will play the lowest ranked winner of this weekend's qualifiers (the fourth-placed Crusaders host the fifth-placed Bulls and the third-placed Reds host the sixth-placed Sharks), and the Chiefs the highest ranked winner.
"We've worked hard to get ourselves into this position and the fact we've dropped a couple of games and still got a home semi highlights the good work done earlier," Chiefs coach Rennie told reporters in Wellington. "We'll take a lot out of [this game].
"If we'd snuck home it might have painted over the cracks. We know we're good enough to win a championship and we've got a couple of weeks to tidy up some things and get it right for the semi."
The Chiefs' set piece was the main problem in the Crusaders' defeat, but against the Hurricanes it was probably their defence, so good all season under the guidance of former All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith, which looked vulnerable. New All Blacks wing Julian Savea scored two tries for the Hurricanes.
Although Friday night's defeat for the Chiefs was a surprise, the biggest shock of the weekend was probably the hapless Blues beating the Australian conference leaders the Brumbies 30-16 in Canberra last night (Sat). Not only was it a form reversal, the defeat by the Brumbies and the subsequent 32-16 win by the Reds over the Waratahs allowed the Queensland team to take out the conference and claim third place overall.
It was a lacklustre way for the Brumbies to finish and highlighted the relative weakness of the Australian conference. The team from Canberra didn't play either the Crusaders or Stormers due to the vagaries of the draw and lost both of their games to the Reds.
The Bulls claimed their place in the playoffs with a 37-20 win over the Lions in Pretoria and the Sharks sneaked in thanks to their 34-15 victory over the Cheetahs in Durban. Both teams had to do it the hard way, the Bulls drawing 20-20 at halftime and the Sharks down 15-6 at the break.
- APNZBy Patrick McKendry Email Patrick