Chiefs coach Warren Gatland sure has some selection challenges ahead of him this week.

While the scoreboard numbers might inflate the Chiefs' success after their 51-14 belting of the Waratahs, there were parts of Friday's performance which were truly shades of a great rugby side that is capable of adapting to changing circumstance.

The bonus point win now sees the Chiefs sit at the top of the Super Rugby ladder, but more importantly, you sense that order has been fully restored in the hearts and minds of this ever-changing side after managing to execute on their own terms, finally.

A storm had to be ridden, again, after the Chiefs managed to get away to a much-desired dream start against the Waratahs, only to concede 14-straight points heading into the sheds.


Needless penalties had allowed the opposition back into it, but the message from Warren Gatland was more positive than a fortnight ago.

"I thought we started well and that was the whole focus, we did give away a few soft penalties and allowed the Waratahs back into it, so we needed to keep up the same intensity and be more accurate which is what we did and I felt it was an excellent second half performance," Gatland said.

With less possession came more tackles for the Chiefs defence, and despite falling off a few, the loose forward trio led the way as Lachlan Boshier, Sam Cane and Pita Gus Sowakula made 43 tackles of the 127 tackles combined.

A good offload game with some Shaun Stevenson brilliance, mostly solid execution near the try line from all scorers and patience through the phases allowed the Chiefs to play more freely and directly than what we've seen so far this season.

All these factors, plus a remarkable implosion by the Waratahs in large parts, are what made the seven tries for the Chiefs on the night, six of which were notched in the second stanza.

Gatland sighted some defensive work still to be done but was also pleased with the ability of his side to absorb pressure.

"The way we are defending at the moment is a little bit of high risk and high reward. When you get it right you're going to create turnovers and pressure and there were times when we looked really comfortable without the ball and that was a real positive because we are soaking up the pressure."

It would've been an easy, perhaps even understandable, ploy by Gatland to have selected the strongest side possible for the Waratahs.


Damian McKenzie could have played instead of being rested, resuming his successful pairing with Solomon Alaimalo in a double act which has already led to a few tries this season. Alex Nankivell could have started instead of bringing in a still underdone Tumua Manu, and at a push, they could've had Atu Moli play.

Instead, the Chiefs shifted some backline players into different positions and went with new combinations, continuing a trend which Gatland says is better positioned to work well when the team is in good competitive spirits.

"We feel like everyone is getting opportunities, the team is in a good place and there is a lot of competition. I thought the guys coming off the bench were outstanding and they gave us some real energy and drive."

Sam Cane had to leave the field with a calf haematoma which will be assessed once the Chiefs return to Hamilton. Likewise, for Aaron Cruden, the veteran first five left the field earlier than expected after complaining of a tight hamstring and will also be looked at.

Their assessments will add into an interesting selection dilemma for Gatland given how well the side played this time round, executing in ways that stronger versions of the team haven't managed, but as he did back in December, Gatland repeated a similar message.

"At the moment we have some All Blacks who are going to have to fight for their positions, they're not going to just stroll back into this side, they'll have to work pretty hard and that also puts us in a good position."


These potential selection dilemmas will have to be decided on quickly, because next up it's a clash against the Hurricanes on Friday.

• Michael Pulman is a freelance journalist based in Hamilton