Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Chiefs keep Super title in their sights

Pre-season the Chiefs set some goals about making the Super 15 playoffs and claiming their first championship.

Many would have seen those aims as unrealistic but they are now within a win of making the final as they face the multi-titled Crusaders tomorrow in Hamilton.

"We talked about winning our first Super title and what that would look like and how would we get there and we have had to tick a lot of boxes along the way," coach Dave Rennie said.

"You might have been a brave man to predict we would get a home semi but a lot of credit for that has to go to our boys who have worked hard and put us in this position.

"The hardest thing about winning a title often is qualifying. We have got this far so may as well put in another couple of big efforts."

The Chiefs have gone for the bulk of the side who last met the Crusaders, keeping the backline, tweaking the loose forwards and recalling captain Craig Clarke, who missed the last clash between the sides through illness.

Kane Thompson has returned from injury at No8 and with Clarke will boost the lineout options while Tanerau Latimer will start ahead of All Black rookie openside flanker Sam Cane.

Latimer had been a real warrior all season, he made a ton of tackles and had been superb throughout the campaign.

"He gets the nod and he will be a bloody nuisance. He is a machine and Sam [Cane] has been fantastic off the bench for us and will give us good impact when the opposition is starting to tire."

The Crusaders have tweaked their lineup with Ben Franks replacing his brother Owen at tighthead prop in a move which surprised the Chiefs.

"From a scrum point of view, in the last game with the Crusaders we got put under pressure late in the game after Ben Tameifuna took a bit of a head knock, so these guys have been given another opportunity to have a crack at it," Rennie said.

The pack had shown at training they were back in the zone and much more cohesive than they were after the June test series.

They had had time to reflect and put that into effect at training in the past few weeks. There would be a captain's run today then into the big event tomorrow.

"There is a lot of excitement and there will be nerves the closer the side gets to the kickoff," said Rennie, "but we are excited to be still in the series.

"There are 11 teams probably having a few drinks now but we are where we wanted to be, it is fantastic that we are at home and in with a chance to play in the final."

Rennie and his crew had used their time to study the Crusaders and their methods and also had the benefit of road testing their ideas against the same opposition a few weeks ago.

That night the Chiefs were outmuscled and shut down in the set pieces, losing 21-28, although the Crusaders have since lost their No8 Kieran Read to a rib injury.

"We've had a good look at what we were planning to do that game and now it is a case of putting it out on the park," Rennie said.

The Crusaders know how to play finals football.

They have seven titles and three runners-up medals, but if the Chiefs played to the potential, they were in with a good chance of emulating their work in 2009 when they made it to the big show for the first time.

- NZ Herald

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