Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Break a boost for Chiefs

Mahonri Schwalger (L) and Craig Clarke in a Chiefs open training session. Photo / NZ Herald
Mahonri Schwalger (L) and Craig Clarke in a Chiefs open training session. Photo / NZ Herald

How important is momentum in finals rugby? Most coaches agree it's a key factor which is why the Crusaders, who are on the motorway while the Chiefs, their semifinal opponents, are stuck in the garage, have an immediate advantage.

Yet the Chiefs have put their time tinkering to good use.

Having finished second overall behind the Stormers, Dave Rennie's men had last weekend off to recover and prepare after consecutive losses to the Crusaders and Hurricanes.

The Crusaders, on the other hand, closed the gate on the Bulls with a comfortable 28-13 qualifier victory in Christchurch on Saturday, a win coming after contrasting successes over the Chiefs and Force. The rhythm and intensity among their pack, on which they base so much of their game, appears to reaching a crescendo.

Chiefs' hooker Mahonri Schwalger, however, believes the time off has been valuable for a side beginning to show their frailties in falling to their conference cousins in Hamilton and Wellington.

"It was good to have that week off. The guys have mentally and physically recovered. We have been working hard for the past couple of weeks," he said of preparations for Friday night's semifinal at Waikato Stadium. "We've been training with an intensity like game day."

Much has been made of the lineout shambles against the Crusaders three weeks ago. Lock and co-captain Craig Clarke's late withdrawal with flu hurt his side there, with 21-year-old Brodie Retallick taking over the calling, and the jumpers failing to gel with thrower Schwalger.

No surprise, then, that this area, along with a scrum on which the Crusaders also exerted plenty of pressure, has received plenty of attention lately.

"We know how important this area is. We have to get it right, we don't have any choice."

Schwalger has taken some of the blame for the lineout woes, but it didn't improve much when Hika Elliot took his place and there is no doubt the Crusaders, with Luke Romano a nuisance at the front, will seek to disrupt things further.

"The Crusaders have a lot of All Blacks in their forward pack," Schwalger said. "We know what they'll bring but we are prepared to throw everything at this game. We've got to. It's do or die."

The Chiefs and Crusaders have one win apiece this season - the Hamilton-based side winning a Crusaders "home" game in Napier in round three - and both know another victory would put them within touching distance of the title.

The Stormers, rested after a bye, will fancy their chances against a Sharks team which has had to travel to Cape Town via Brisbane following their win over the Reds, but the Stormers have problems of their own, namely scoring tries.

They were outscored three tries to two against the lowly Rebels in a 26-21 last-round win at Newlands, and the week before they battled to a 13-6 victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. The Sharks, on the other hand, looked extremely impressive in thrashing the Reds 30-17 in their qualifier.

A Sharks win would send the Durban-based side back to either Hamilton or Christchurch for a final.

As expected, Crusaders' No8 Kieran Read today made himself unavailable for Friday's match due to a rib fracture.

- APNZ

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 21 Aug 2014 03:59:48 Processing Time: 542ms