Chiefs outsmart the lineout kings
April 3, 2014
Brett McKay dissects key plays that will have a major bearing on the Super Rugby title © Scrum.com
There's been plenty written and said in New Zealand in recent weeks about the state of the Chiefs' lineout, and whether it's good enough to take them to a third consecutive Super Rugby title.
On the back of a night to forget in Pretoria last weekend, most answers to that rhetorical question have been an emphatic 'no'. Three lineouts were lost with poor throws, and of the seven they did win on their own throw, several were affected by Bulls' contests, most notably lineout master, Victor Matfield.
Overall, the Chiefs' lineout is ranked as the worst in the competition, winning 70.2% on their own throw. This effectiveness was magnified at Loftus Versfeld last weekend by virtue of playing the best lineout in Super Rugby, with the Bulls winning 94.2% on their throw.
To put this year's figures into perspective, the Chiefs did indeed take the Super Rugby title despite having the worst lineout in the competition, but their success rate in 2013 was a noticeably better 78.5%.
Worryingly, for teams heading to Loftus, the Bulls still had the best lineout last season as well, but it was 'only' operating at 89.2% success. Amazing what a difference a Matfield can make.
This all said, the Chiefs did put one over the Bulls late in the 34-all draw last weekend, with what would be their penultimate try of the match coming from a lineout set play. We're going to take a look at that play on the Whiteboard today.
With less than five minutes left in the match, and with the Chiefs still trailing the Bulls by twelve points, with Gareth Anscombe having scored only a few minutes earlier, all the momentum was with the fast finishing visitors.
A full arm penalty inside their own half saw the Chiefs find touch ten metres out from the Bulls try line.
The Chiefs went with a four-man lineout, which was probably a good option, considering the Bulls are not only very good at executing the rolling maul, they're also pretty handy at stopping it. The Chiefs' two main jumpers by that stage in the game, Matt Symons and Michael Fitzgerald, are stationed in a back pod of three, and Matfield is positioned here, too, for the contest.
Replacement prop, Jamie Mackintosh, positioned himself on the five metre mark, but faced inwards, likely to become a lifter. Replacement hooker, Mo Schwalger, heard the call, and took up his spot on the mark.
The movement took away the threat of Matfield © Scrum.com
Before the throw, the usual position-swapping that happens in every lineout happened again, with Mackintosh heading to the back pod, and Fitzgerald coming right to the front for the short option. In the footage, this was the first 'win' for the Chiefs in this lineout, because Matfield hung at the front of the back pod, but clearly unsure whether he should contest at the back, or now at the front against Fitzgerald.
Additionally, the Chiefs' back pod backtracked further just before the throw, dragging the Bulls' forwards with them. Matfield decided by now that Fitzgerald was just a decoy at the front now, and he went to the back pod too, as the ball was thrown.
All the while, Chiefs replacement scrum-half, Augustine Pulu, was waiting in the wings. As the ball was thrown however, he sprang into action, and headed straight for the middle of the lineout, where a massive gap had been created by the backtracking of the back pod of forwards.
It was a wonderful move, with Pulu taking the throw cleanly and getting as close as a metre out from the Bulls' try line after beating the first defender.
The move allowed the pods to distract defenders and open up a massive hole for Pulu © Scrum.com
By that stage, the pod of Chiefs forwards had followed from the lineout, with Symons taking the ball from the back of the ruck and heading to the inside. Mackintosh packed in alongside to charge over low down. Craig Joubert was quick to follow the play and the try was awarded immediately.
Even though Anscombe would miss the conversion, this was an important try, as it put the Chiefs back into striking distance, still with four minutes left on the clock.
The Chiefs did indeed strike back, with Aaron Cruden crashing over in the corner on the final bell, which Anscombe calmly converted from the sideline.
With the scores level at the end, the Chiefs secured three points - two for the draw, and the four-try bonus point - from a visit to Loftus Versfeld, something almost as rare as overseas teams winning there.
And they wouldn't have got that close without that sneaky lineout.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
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