Chiefs talk up Brumbies' challenge
July 28, 2013
Ben Tameifuna have now put behind them the semi-final celebrations © Getty Images
Joe Tomane offers attacking thrust on the Brumbies wing © Getty Images
The Chiefs don't expect travel fatigue to play a role when they host the Brumbies in a most unexpected Super Rugby final at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday.
The majority of pundits had predicted a Bulls-Crusaders final in Pretoria, but the New Zealand and Australian Conference champions notched courageous wins to set up a Hamilton showdown. The defending champions upset the recent form book with a breathtaking 20-19 semi-final win over the Crusaders before the Brumbies conjured a greater upset in toppling the Bulls 26-23 through a last-gasp try at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria to reach their first final in nine years.
The top-qualifying Chiefs will be favoured to defend the title, but co-captain Craig Clarke is taking nothing for granted. His side overwhelmed the Sharks 37-6 in 2012 to secure their maiden title, but the low-qualifying South African side had endured a nightmare travel schedule during the preceding weeks. This time the Brumbies just have one return trip from South Africa to endure.
"If you've got an experienced crew, you can deal with that. And they're experienced, I'm sure they'll be very combative," Clarke said. "The travel does play a little factor. It's awesome to be able to prepare in your own facilities and have that extra day of training."
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie took furious notes when viewing a replay of the Brumbies' win, the Canberra side's victory built around a disciplined kicking game, their ability to disrupt the Bulls at the breakdown, and the fitness at altitude to send centre Tevita Kuridrani over for a match-winning try with two minutes to play.
The Chiefs were resolute in defence against the Crusaders © Getty Images
The teams haven't met this year, through a quirk of the draw, but Rennie won't veer too far tactically from what has worked over the past two seasons for a team lacking individual star power. The Chiefs' win against the in-form Crusaders was built on character, defending for lengthy periods through the first half to trail just 9-3 and then again over the closing stages after they had scored 17 points in the third quarter, featuring tries to Lelia Masaga and Aaron Cruden.
"We got caught out a couple of times but on the whole there were some fantastic moments defensively," Rennie said. "The Crusaders are a hell of a side and they've been playing some fantastic rugby. We've been lucky we got them at home."
The Chiefs have won just six of 18 Super Rugby games against the Brumbies, although they've won past two clashes in Hamilton - including their most recent meeting, 16 months ago, when they won 29-22 to square their historical record at Waikato Stadium at 3-3. They lost their only previous play-off game against the Brumbies, 32-17 in Canberra in 2004, when the Canberra side went on to claim their second crown.
Todd Blackadder, whose Crusaders bowed out against the Chiefs in the semi-finals, believe the defending champions will go bac-to-back despite the record against the Brumbies. "It will really depend on how much this game took out of them because it was a tough, physical encounter," Blackadder said. "But you'd have to say that home ground advantage will put the Chiefs ahead. They were really clinical and played some really smart rugby."
Follow live text commentary of the Super Rugby semi-final between the Chiefs and the Brumbies on Saturday, August, from 7pm (NZT), 5pm (EST), 7am (GMT)