Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Unconvincing Chiefs need to sharpen up

The Chiefs' Bundee Aki tries to push off Baden Kerr at Eden Park last night. Photo / Getty Images
The Chiefs' Bundee Aki tries to push off Baden Kerr at Eden Park last night. Photo / Getty Images

There was an edge to training at the Chiefs' Ruakura headquarters this week, according to coach Dave Rennie, but it didn't quite translate to Eden Park last night.

Rennie will want something extra for his team's semifinal at Waikato Stadium in a fortnight because as a statement of intent this performance lacked a certain, well, sharpness.

The Chiefs played with a one-man advantage for almost three-quarters of this match thanks to the red-carding of Blues flanker Kane Barrett. For 10 minutes they were playing with two extra players thanks to the sinbinning of first-five Baden Kerr, another debatable decision.

The Blues did extremely well to remain competitive for so long, but teams with a more ruthless streak would have scented blood and acted accordingly.

It was only Barrett's second start of the season and it will be memorable for all the wrong reasons, referee Chris Pollock acting on assistant Jonathon White's recommendation that Barrett be sent packing for using his studs on Chiefs' captain Craig Clarke's shoulder.

The score was 8-3 to the Chiefs at the time thanks to Bundee Aki's well-taken try in the right corner, but it was the Blues who looked stronger immediately after Barrett's exit.

It ramped up the intensity in a match with plenty of feeling - this was a derby in every sense - with fullback Charles Piutau scoring an excellent try from Baden Kerr's kick through the defence.

Strangely, too, although the Chiefs' scrum was dominant and became increasingly so, which wasn't surprising given the immense bulk of Ben Tameifuna at tighthead prop, the Blues weren't embarrassed in this area, although Hika Elliot's try from a rolling maul owed much to a good scrum and mistake by Blues halfback Piri Weepu.

While the Chiefs had the New Zealand conference sewn up before kick-off, they still had plenty to play for. This was no dead rubber. Not only did they need the victory in order to help their chances of finishing on top of the table, they had to draw a line under their last performance against the Crusaders in Christchurch - one lacking in passion, and in many cases, common sense. The six changes Rennie made following that loss was a sign of his displeasure, but the expected reaction wasn't forthcoming.

The Kerr sinbinning for a deliberate knock-down of a Liam Messam pass was unfortunate, a situation the Blues first-five found himself in after scrambling back from an intercepted Anthony Boric pass. The home crowd of 25,000 believed most of the decisions were going against their team.

In the finish this was an end-to-end thriller in doubt until full-time, although Aaron Cruden's poor goalkicking - he missed all four conversions - did the Blues a favour.

In many respects it was the Blues who made the bolder statement. After five straight losses and a trip home from South Africa, their performance spoke volumes about how far they have come this season.

For the Chiefs it will be a reminder that they still have a fair way to go. APNZ

- APNZ

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