Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Chiefs conspiracy claims easy to counter

The best teams do what they feel they have to do to win. It depends on emotional allegiance as to how grey area incidents are judged and that's arguably the key thing to keep in mind when considering the debate around the Chiefs and their front row shuffling against the Hurricanes.

If the All Blacks had done something similar against the Boks, New Zealanders would be praising the smartness of coach Steve Hansen and urging South Africans to move on; to believe there was no scandal or manipulation of the rules.

So maybe it would be best if a similar approach was applied now and for there to be universal acceptance that there really isn't much of a controversy here.

What really happened was that the Chiefs shifted the risk in the last five minutes. They removed the prospect of conceding a kickable scrum penalty, but greatly increased the chances of the Hurricanes scoring a try.

Given the way Hurricanes first-five Beauden Barrett had kicked that night and the way he had run, the Chiefs weren't being greatly advantaged by the depowered scrums.

That was surely evidenced when Barrett sliced through in the last play of the game and delivered the perfect pass to Jason Woodward.

If, as he should have, the Hurricanes fullback had caught that and fallen over the line, the scrummaging scandal would never have erupted.

There would have been no implication that the Chiefs, defending a one-point lead with five minutes left, were advantaged by being reduced to 14 men.

As for the rest of the story ... well, for every conspiracy claim, there is a legitimate reply from the Chiefs.

To the question of whether Siate Tokolahi was genuinely injured, the conspiracy theory says he was fine right up until the point a trainer came on the field during a stoppage and told him he wasn't. Yet, as Rennie made clear in a heated rebuff, that same trainer had been on the field a few minutes earlier attending to Tokolahi's back.

What's also apparent is that Tokolahi, admittedly not the most elegant or swift mover normally, is not exactly sprinting as he plods from the lineout to the last stoppage before he was replaced.

The conspirators say the indecision about taking him off was a result of the episode being feigned and the penny taking a while to drop. The Chiefs say it was a genuine case of Tokolahi trying to battle on, unsure whether it was right or wrong to admit defeat and come off.

This scenario plays out hundreds of times each season and no more memorably than the World Cup final where Kieran Read damaged his ankle badly in the opening five minutes and spent an age deliberating whether he could play on. And that's the thing with injuries - players are never certain of the extent of the damage, typified by the fact that Tawera Kerr-Barlow stayed on the field in Wellington despite having a broken hand.

The conspiracy theory says the Chiefs were being dominated all night in the scrums and manipulated a shift to Golden Oldies to thwart the Hurricanes' obvious advantage. The more accurate picture is the Hurricanes went from being solid, or maybe a little more than that in the scrums, to being dominant in the two before Tokolahi came off.

The best explanation for the Hurricanes' sudden scrummaging elevation is Tokolahi's back injury? The conspirators say that Rennie and the Chiefs coaching team weren't aware that the consequence of going to depowered scrums would be an enforced reduction to 14 men.

But again, during the live broadcast it was clear that the Chiefs management team were told by the sideline official what the consequences of taking Tokolahi off would be before they committed to doing so. It also has to be pointed out that the Chiefs weren't under any obligation to have three men in their 23 who can play tighthead.

Whether Siegfried Fisiihoi has or can play at tighthead is irrelevant - the Chiefs fulfilled their obligation to have two specialist tightheads, two specialist looseheads and two specialist hookers.

- NZ Herald

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