The Chiefs head into their must-win Super 14 match against the Lions in Johannesburg this weekend without key backs Brendon Leonard and Richard Kahui but confident they can turn around their sudden form slump.
Evan Pegden writes in the Waikato Times that speaking from Perth yesterday before getting on a plane for South Africa, head coach Ian Foster said there was no doubt they could turn around Saturday night’s 22-21 defeat against the Force and resume winning in the Republic.
The Chiefs played poorly in the first half at Subiaco Oval to trail 14-3 at the break but came back in the second spell, finally took the lead 21-19 with less than four minutes to play through a Callum Bruce dropped goal but then gave up a penalty at the end that allowed Matt Giteau to win the match for the Force after the final hooter.
“It’s frustrating but that’s what you get at this time of the year when teams out of the race are desperate for credibility and desperate to knock over a team that’s in the race,” Foster said. “I think we saw that with the (second-placed) Waratahs and the (10th placed) Bulls, and certainly us and the Force. If we’re going to have a chance in this championship we’ve got to be good enough to deal with that.”
The Chiefs slipped out of the top four, but only as far as fifth due to getting a bonus point for finishing within seven points and the Sharks earning no points in their defeat at the hands of the Crusaders on Friday night. They must now beat both the Lions and Sharks in South Africa to have a chance of reaching the semifinals for just the second time in 12 years of Super rugby.
Foster said the problems the Chiefs had to address from the Force match, leading into their next match at Ellis Park against the bottom-placed Lions, were obvious. “(Nathan) Sharpe dealt to our lineout and we’ve got to fix that up because we’ve got to get the ball and we’ve got to make sure we don’t try to force the game and rush things. In the first half I thought we were too lateral in our attack and perhaps became sitting ducks for them defensively. As a consequence we turned the ball over in the collision area a lot more than we have for the last six or seven weeks and we saw what happens when you do that.”
The Chiefs came away from the Force match at Subiaco Oval with five new injuries, the most significant of those being the ankle injury suffered by centre Kahui as he unsuccessfully dived for the line just before halftime.
Halfback Jamie Nutbrown and second five Callum Bruce also hurt their ankles but Foster said they appeared minor injuries, while Kahui looked like he would be out for the Lions game. Lock Kevin O’Neill aggravated an elbow injury and prop Simms Davison hurt his back but both were also thought to be minor.
The Chiefs took the same 26 players to South Africa with halfback Leonard still in Hamilton recovering from his knee injury. “We’ve been in constant communication with him and we will not be bringing him over for the Lions game because while he’s running pretty freely he’s not at the point where he can accelerate as well as we would like.”
The situation would be reassessed later in the week, Foster said. Because of the tight situation on the points table five points cover third to seventh positions Foster said a narrow win against the Force might not have changed the scenario for the Chiefs for the last two weeks of the round-robin.
“Our focus has really been on the quality of our game and disappointment comes out of that because we didn’t achieve what we wanted to achieve. The Lions game for us is the same as it always was a very big game,” he said.Tweet