Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Don't write off the Chiefs

The Chiefs have suffered successive defeats which deliver impressions they are wavering heading into the playoffs. Photo / Getty Images
The Chiefs have suffered successive defeats which deliver impressions they are wavering heading into the playoffs. Photo / Getty Images

The Crusaders have played more finals than any other Super 15 side, most have been All Blacks but in recent times they have stalled near the winner's rostrum.

Since Todd Blackadder took over as coach, they have fallen in two semifinals and lost out to the Reds in last season's conclusion.

The last of their seven titles came in 2008, when Robbie Deans was allowed one final Crusade before he jetted across the Tasman to coach the Wallabies.

While most figure the pedigree running through their side means they are slight semifinal favourites, even for an away duel with the Chiefs on Friday night in Hamilton, they have not cracked this competition on Blackadder's watch.

The seven titles came in the decade between 1998 and 2008, years when Wayne Smith then Deans coached a franchise to be the benchmark for New Zealand.

They still are but their sackful of All Blacks does not give them the aura they once had.

Rugby talent in New Zealand has broadened in the initial All Black group picked by new coach Steve Hansen and his panel.

The Crusaders had a majority with 10 players, the Chiefs had seven, the Highlanders six, the Blues five and the Hurricanes four members of the June test squad.

In round robin action this season the Crusaders lost to the Chiefs, Highlanders, Hurricanes, Rebels and Bulls while the Chiefs fell to the Highlanders, Reds, Hurricanes and Crusaders.

The Chiefs have suffered successive defeats which deliver impressions they are wavering heading into the playoffs while the Crusaders have brought out their finals-style football which is attritional, practical and based on a low error rate.

Memories are still fresh of the set-piece vice the Crusaders applied to the Chiefs a few weeks back, when they squeezed a pack without the ill Craig Clarke and injured Kane Thompson. They applied an early choke hold, had a slice of refereeing fortune and held out their fast-finishing hosts. The Crusaders were in similar menacing quarter-final forward form as they knocked the Bulls back on the advantage line and shut down their restricted ideas. The victors will have the same side because Kieran Read has been scratched from contact once more because of his rib injury.

The Chiefs should be better. They have had extra training time to repair some wobbles and to work on strategies to counter the set-piece test from the visitors. They look more capable of ad lib strikes and the sort of opportunist forays which unsettle the heavily structured Crusaders.

There will be varying theories about the value of the bye for the Chiefs.

Take your pick. Is it a blessing to halt and repair their blemishes or will they lose further momentum and the hard edge for knockout rugby?

World Cup final referee Craig Joubert will control Friday's semifinal assisted by Jonathan Kaplan and Keith Brown with Garratt Williamson as the TMO.

Steve Walsh will rule on the Cape Town semifinal between the Stormers and Sharks with help from Jaco Peyper, Marius Jonker and TMO assistance from Shaun Veldsman.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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