Rugby: Chiefs in charge of their finals fate

By Kris Shannon

Brad Weber of the Chiefs congratulates James Lowe on his try against the Crusaders. Photo / Getty
Brad Weber of the Chiefs congratulates James Lowe on his try against the Crusaders. Photo / Getty

How important, when the final ball is kicked in the round robin, will the late intervention of Mitchell Brown prove in the Super Rugby playoff picture?

The 22-year-old debutant was the man earning plaudits after winning a late penalty in the Chiefs' 23-13 victory over the Crusaders on Friday night, a minor moment that could have significant ramifications.

After Damian McKenzie subsequently split the uprights in the last act of the evening, pushing the margin out to 10, the previously table-topping Crusaders took nothing from their trip to Suva while the Chiefs took control of the competition with two rounds remaining.

That ascendancy appeared deserved after a professional performance from Dave Rennie's side, defending well, forcing mistakes and making better use of their opportunities. Their efforts earned them a one-point lead over the Crusaders and left the Chiefs in charge of their finals fate.

While four New Zealand teams seem likely to punch their playoffs ticket, only the conference winners will enjoy home advantage in the opening round. And if the other Kiwi sides are to emerge triumphant from any overseas voyages, right now the road to the title runs through Hamilton.

"To deny the Crusaders a bonus point right on fulltime was pretty important," Rennie said. "It puts us in a position where our destiny's in our own hands. A loss would have meant we would have been relying on others. And I think 46 [points] is enough to be in the playoffs so now it's about positioning."

While the Chiefs are yet to mathematically seal a spot in the top eight, it would take an incredible series of results to deny that eventuality. The jostling for final positioning will begin in Brisbane next weekend, before the Chiefs round out the regular season with a potentially defining trip to Dunedin.

And while the Highlanders were far too good when the teams met in May, the rematch will hold no fear for the Chiefs if they can defend as well as they did in Fiji. An aspect of their game sorely lacking as they headed into the international break with a heavy defeat against the Waratahs, Rennie's men won regular turnovers and tackled well throughout on Friday, showing the benefit of an extra fixture on their schedule.

"We spent the last month tidying up that part of our game - we've done a hell of a lot on individual tackle technique," Rennie said. "It was good to see a bit of evidence of that in the Welsh game and again [on Friday]."

In some ways, such a resolute showing against the Crusaders should have come as no surprise. The Chiefs have won eight of the teams' last 10 meetings, holding the Crusaders to an average of 15.5 points in those victories and setting up a psychological edge should the sides meet in the playoffs.

"There's no doubt we love playing the Crusaders," Rennie said. "They're generally chock-full of All Blacks and for so long were the benchmark. They've been a team we've had some success against."

- NZ Herald

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