Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Rennie's team benchmark

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Clearly the table-topping Chiefs are the benchmark Super Rugby team. Photo / Getty Images
Clearly the table-topping Chiefs are the benchmark Super Rugby team. Photo / Getty Images

Clearly the table-topping Chiefs are the benchmark Super Rugby team.

The Highlanders are also well up there in terms of quality and the game between the two teams in Hamilton on May 7 should be a blockbuster.

Three winning bonus points show the Chiefs are winning emphatically and a losing bonus point in their only defeat shows they lost that only narrowly.

Saturday's victory over the Brumbies in Canberra was extraordinary for many reasons but that has almost become the norm with this team. They are comfortable travelling anywhere to play. They just get the job done. Canberra is a tough place to win, but so is Buenos Aires, and they came back from the death to beat the Jaguares there; so is Christchurch - traditionally the toughest place in Super Rugby to get a result - but they routinely win there too, including this season.

The Chiefs are a team with an incredible culture, you can see that. It's clear from their success and the way they galvanise as an organisation, not just the players.

I also think they're incredibly well coached and that Dave Rennie is an All Black coach in the making.

His appreciation for the game and his composure is outstanding. He never looks rattled or stressed. He has an incredible rugby brain and has good people around him. I spent time with him at Murray Mexted's International Rugby Academy before he got the Chiefs job and I was impressed. He is a good thinker but sometimes good thinkers in the game can't get the message across. He can.

I'm a big advocate of Steve Hansen and what he's done with the All Blacks and what he will do in the future. But I hope his ongoing coaching of the All Blacks doesn't push Rennie overseas. We have to retain him in New Zealand.

He obviously gives the players confidence to express themselves. Look at the tries his men scored against the Brumbies. They are prepared to chip kick within their own 22m to attempt 90m tries. Brilliant stuff.

They remind me of the Crusaders team I played in. We knew what we were good at and how to expose teams. We had a defensively-oriented game and could strike quickly on the counter-attack; simple stuff on paper but with the players we had, it was a template for a lot of success.

The Chiefs play from all parts of the field, but they work strongly in the hard-to-see areas such as the breakdown. On Saturday, that was the winning of the game. It's easy to look at that game and say "the Chiefs throw the ball around and score some great tries", but that comes from their breakdown work. When you don't see David Pocock, Scott Fardy or Stephen Moore at the breakdowns, you know you're doing something right.

The other thing I noticed about the Chiefs - and this also relates to my time at the Crusaders playing alongside Andrew Mehrtens - is that they can turn pressure into points. Knowing Mehrts could kick them from nearly everywhere gave me great comfort and Damian McKenzie is doing the same for the Chiefs.

- NZ Herald

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Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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