Chiefs talk up title chances

Brad Weber of the Chiefs reacts with dismay after losing 18-13 to the Crusaders in Christchurch last weekend. GETTY-IMAGES

Some might say the low rumbling noises echoing out of Hamilton are the rivets, wheels and axles pinging off in all directions from the Chiefs’ wagon.

Or that it’s the local rugby supporters voicing their discontent as they assess the damage after three rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Assistant coach Tabai Matson views it another way.

Listen to his sound bites and you could end up believing that crunching and clattering is actually the sound of the Chiefs building a unit capable of winning the competition.

“Five games to go. Do the maths on that,’’ Mason says. “That’s a lot of points. Yeah, absolutely.

“Five wins. We are margins away, and I think that is the great thing about high performance sport. If you are two percent off you lose, and if you are two percent up you win.’’

Percentage points aside, it’s the ones on the scoreboard that matter. Which is where the Chiefs are simply not delivering. And it is a worry.

After three losses, the most recent an 18-13 defeat to the Crusaders when the miserable Christchurch weather was matched by the visitors’ collective mood afterwards, the Chiefs’ title hopes are on the cusp of perishing.

If they can storm home to win the domestic competition after such a rotten start, it would be some story; to become reality the opening paragraphs outlining the rebirth must begin with success over the Hurricanes at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton on Sunday..

Season-ending injuries to All Blacks Atu Moli, Luke Jacobson and Nathan Harris, while Angus Ta’avao isn’t expected to be available until after next weekend’s bye at the earliest, haven’t done the Chiefs any favours.

And they can only dream about having All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick back to help fix their lineout, with the giant rig unavailable because he is still contracted to his Japanese club while on sabbatical.

The win-less Hurricanes have also had their share of problems. They farewelled attack coach Carlos Spencer in controversial circumstances this week, and remedying the absence of star playmaker Beauden Barrett, now at the Blues, remains an ongoing issue.

The good news for the Hurricanes is that Jordie Barrett should be declared fit to add some unpredictability and punch to the backline.

Yet the Chiefs, according to Matson, aren’t curling up for anyone.

Upon reflection, they know they could have had the Crusaders’ measure last Sunday but cruelled their chances through a number of unsatisfactory decisions; Aaron Cruden made several line breaks but his passes weren’t to team-mates, the kicking could have been more accurate and they were too adventurous in such rotten weather conditions.

So, back to Matson to deliver his verdict on how the Chiefs are going to turn their season around.

“Someone said you can measure success by going from failure to failure, without losing enthusiasm and I feel like there is a lot of enthusiasm every week to prepare,’’ Matson says.

“And to be fair we delivered our best performance against the Crusaders. To be pipped, and beaten, is always demoralising but you have to roll in on Monday and get back to work again knowing there is five games to go has been a real focus.’’

The Chiefs name their team Friday.


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