Daniel Richardson

Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Kahui expects big performance from Chiefs

Richard Kahui  says the Chiefs weren't far away from a complete performance after patchy efforts in the past few weeks. Photo / Christine Cornege
Richard Kahui says the Chiefs weren't far away from a complete performance after patchy efforts in the past few weeks. Photo / Christine Cornege

As the Chiefs eye a franchise record-equalling sixth consecutive win, one of the trickiest opponents in Super Rugby awaits.

The Cheetahs might occupy 11th on the ladder but, as they showed when they dispatched the Hurricanes 47-38 in Wellington a fortnight ago, they play with an abandon that can be hard to contain.

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske encourages his side to throw the ball around and, coupled with a forward pack that boasts dimensions to make aspiring bodybuilders envious and some slick backs, they're a team that are tough to match up against.

They also held the Crusaders to within seven points when only some Dan Carter magic got the Christchurch-based franchise home 28-21 against the South Africans last month.

It all adds up to a challenging task for the high-flying Chiefs, who tackle the Cheetahs at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Sunday morning (NZT).

After misreading the script in week one when they lost 23-19 to the Highlanders, the Waikato-based side have thrived under the coaching of Dave Rennie, Wayne Smith and Tom Coventry and have won their past five games.

The last time they won six on the trot they made it all the way to the Super Rugby final in 2009, when they were promptly brought back down to Earth by the Bulls when they were hammered 61-17 in the show-piece game.

Only seven Chiefs remain from the 22 who played that final in Pretoria and one of them is Richard Kahui who said his side weren't far away from a complete performance after patchy efforts in the past few weeks, including last Friday's 20-12 win over the Force in Perth.

"I certainly feel like we are not far away," Kahui said from South Africa. "I thought last week was going to be the week. But maybe we are saving it for this week at altitude against the Cheetahs. I certainly know we've got it in us and, when it comes out, I'm sure it's going to be great."

With a backline full of All Blacks, including Kahui, first five-eighths Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams, the Chiefs have plenty of firepower to mix it with the Cheetahs.

Smith, who is the team's defence coach, stressed during the week the importance of containing the Cheetahs in open play and just how the Chiefs shut down the home side on the counter-attack would be pivotal to their chances.

"They're big boys, they run hard and they often play smarter off the ball," Kahui said of the Cheetahs. "They're good at blocking and things like that. You've just got to be prepared to roll the sleeves up and do some real hard work, and when you get the opportunities you have to take them."

Rennie has dropped fullback Robbie Robinson to the bench and handed the No 15 jersey to Andrew Horrell, while the imposing Alex Bradley will make his debut for the side at No 8 and Hika Elliot will start at hooker.

Chiefs: Andrew Horrell, Lelia Masaga, Richard Kahui, Sonny Bill Williams, Tim Nanai-Williams, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Alex Bradley, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Craig Clarke, Ben Tameifuna, Hika Elliot, Arizona Taumalolo. Reserves: Mahonri Schwalger, Josh Hohneck, Michael FitzGerald, Sam Cane, Augustine Pulu, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Robbie Robinson.

- APNZ

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