Rugby: Back on song Chiefs ready to play Blues

By Kris Shannon

Tawera Kerr-Barlow of the Chiefs scampers from the base of a ruck. Photo / Getty Images
Tawera Kerr-Barlow of the Chiefs scampers from the base of a ruck. Photo / Getty Images

The Chiefs have found form at the vital time to set up a potentially pivotal showdown with the Blues next weekend.

Friday night's 24-16 victory over the Hurricanes was crucial not only for the four competition points but also for the manner in which the Chiefs rebounded after a difficult period either side of the international break.

And the defending champions rediscovering their golden touch is further bad news for a Blues side who are all but out of the top-six race.

The last time the Chiefs and Blues were in contention for Super Rugby's playoffs was in 2007, when the latter crept into the post-season while the former missed out.

The northern neighbours have since alternated in fortunes and, given the late stage of the meeting, no player on either side would have experienced this derby with stakes so high.

Eden Park hosts the season-defining encounter and the congested state of the New Zealand conference means there won't be room in the playoffs for both teams - both could also miss out.

It's a good thing for the Chiefs, then, that they excelled in all-but ending the Hurricanes' campaign in Hamilton. Six weeks after surrendering so meekly in Wellington - a 37-point loss that started a three-game slide - the Chiefs put together one of their most complete performances of the season, just when defeat would have ended their hopes of a third-straight title.

The champions limited the competition's most prolific side to 16 points, preventing the leading try-scorers from crossing until 15 minutes from the end. It was the type of suffocating, committed effort for which the Chiefs became known under Dave Rennie, shutting down Beauden Barrett and the rest of the Hurricanes' high-powered backline.

"I thought our defence was outstanding," Rennie said. "We didn't give them a hell of a lot of space.

"Beauden was running laterally and picking up cutters. It was a pretty easy cue for us and we managed to get a lot of double tackles in there and create problems."

As good as the Chiefs were without the ball, they would have also been satisfied with what they did on attack. The tone was set when Aaron Cruden turned down an early shot before the game's opening try and, while some opportunities were still squandered, there were signs the Chiefs' clinical edge was returning.

"We had the momentum and a lot of ball in their territory," Cruden said of his decision. "We talked during the week. We wanted to get back to a bit of Chiefs footy, and I think that area has probably been lacking."

It was a ruthless side that signalled the Chiefs' intent - and put the Blues on notice next Friday.

"We've talked about the Hurricanes," Rennie said. "If they managed to get into the top six, everyone would have been nervous. And I think it's likewise with the Blues.

"But if we can have the same sort of intensity then we're in with a shot."

- APNZ

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