By JAMIE TROUGHTON
Call it a siege mentality, or just plain arrogance. But it appears the lingering hangover from the Sione Lauaki assault case continues to sour the Chiefs.
Just before Ian Foster wandered into the press conference following the 30-20 win over the Stormers at Blue Chip Stadium on Saturday night, he paused and issued some instructions to his skipper Jono Gibbes.
"Just short and sharp answers - don't give these guys any more than they need," Foster reportedly said.
His instructions were followed. Gibbes was polite but decidedly abbreviated in his answers to questions, while Foster opted for the cliched approach.
Asked what the Chiefs' prospects were for the playoffs, specifics went out the nearest proverbial window.
"With four rounds to go, I'm pretty excited we have got a bit more to come," Foster said. "What I do know is that we have got four games to go and we have won two and drawn one out of our last three games and we have to keep building and what will be, will be."
Things have been palpably tense over Hamilton way ever since Lauaki's late-night indiscretion.
The franchise was furious the matter became public fodder and tried to put a blanket over media coverage. Officials even threatened to ban the Waikato Times - a sponsor of Waikato and Chiefs rugby - from covering games.
Ironically, the lingering smell of that controversy has managed to mask the stench of another season sliding down the toilet.
All eyes have been on the Blues' woes - the same Blues who are level with the Chiefs on the table.
Games against the Hurricanes, Waratahs and Blues still remain with the Chiefs needing mathematics and big bonus points to make the playoffs.
They won't do it.
There have been positives from the season thus far - from a Bay of Plenty perspective Bernie Upton, Anthony Tahana and the Steamers frontrow have all continued to blossom - but overall a culture of mediocrity prevails.
If you need an example, look at Foster's petulance before Saturday's press conference. Or their dreadful media protocols with strict limitations on which players are available and when.
Gibbes may not have had much to say, anyway. His whispered move to Saracens is probably taking up most of his thoughts and the man was plainly exhausted after a tough battle.
But Foster's battle shouldn't be against us scribes. His team, his season and his job should be greater considerations.