Rugby: Chiefs unhappy but encouraged after falling short

By Kris Shannon

Damian McKenzie and the Chiefs were tipped over by the Hurricanes in their semifinal. Photo / Getty
Damian McKenzie and the Chiefs were tipped over by the Hurricanes in their semifinal. Photo / Getty

The story of the both the Chiefs' season and their semifinal defeat can be told in two numbers.

The first will prove galling as Dave Rennie and his coaches assess where it all went wrong - zero, as in the competition's second-highest try scorers failed to cross the line for the first time all year.

The second, though, will provide nothing but encouragement about the franchise's future - 23, or the average age of the starting XV who ran out at Westpac Stadium on Saturday night.

Together, they capture a campaign that could be called over-achieving, one that met an ignominious end as an injury-hit and youthful side struggled to fire a shot against the Hurricanes.

After scoring 76 tries in 16 games, the Chiefs were unable to find their way across the line for just the third time in Rennie's five-year reign. They were suffocated by the Hurricanes' outstanding defence, certainly, but they also had themselves to blame after squandering several chances, particularly during a frustrating first-half spell that eventually defined the match.

"We weren't good enough," Rennie said. "We created some opportunities but just weren't clinical enough. I think the couple of balls that were thrown over the sidelines in the last five minutes probably summed up our night."

The coach pinpointed a few factors to explain his side's profligacy - finding no solution to the opposition's relentless line speed, an inability to feed the right man at the right moment, leaving "our hands in Africa". The travel was never used as an excuse, though the Chiefs must look back with regret at the final-round defeat in Dunedin, were they could have locked up home advantage throughout the playoffs.

One mitigating reason possibly behind that setback - although it was never used by Rennie - was the Chiefs' relative inexperience. In addition to the average age, there were another couple of figures to consider - the 15 players the Chiefs lost overseas at the conclusion of the previous campaign and the 12 men who missed the semifinal through injury.

All those absences created a callow starting side in Wellington, while the bench also featured a 21-year-old (Lachlan Boshier) and a teenager (Shaun Stevenson), two players whose performances this season were indicative of the team's promising future.

"I'm pretty proud of our group - we picked a lot of guys for the future," Rennie said. "We had a fair few injuries so some of these young fellas had to play a hell of a lot of footy for us. Because of that, I think we're going to be stronger next year - they've got a little bit more exposure."

Rennie will once more be at the helm of that group, chasing a third title that has proven elusive since winning the competition in consecutive seasons to begin his tenure. Given the Chiefs had reached the playoffs only twice before Rennie arrived to punch a post-season ticket five years in a row, his legacy is already secure.

But, with the sting of defeat was still sorely felt, it was with mixed emotions he viewed the state of the Chiefs.

"Whenever you lose, you're thinking about what happened [in the game], as opposed to what we achieved over the last few months," the coach said. "But from a club point of view, we're in good shape."

- NZ Herald

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