Posted by ESPN on March 05, 2015
Offloads, defence key to impressive Chiefs form
If the signings of Sonny-Bill Williams and Hosea Gear to complement a gun squad were not enough to convince you of the Chiefs' intentions of returning to Super Rugby's summit in 2015, perhaps their form at the start of the season has done so. Not only have they knocked off a fierce derby rival as well as two of the stronger sides in the competition - the Blues, Brumbies and Crusaders - they managed to obliterate the latter. The emphatic nature of their defeat of the seven-time Super Rugby champions was beyond impressive, and we have compared it with their other performances this year and last as well as their title-winning seasons of 2012 and 2013 to gauge their worth.
The Hamilton side had been involved in a couple of close encounters in the lead up to their demolishment of the Crusaders, winning by five- and two-point margins against the Blues and Brumbies respectively. With the Chiefs scoring five tries to one against the Crusaders, you may expect to be reading cricket-score like figures when it comes to the match statistics; but this isn't the case.
Rather than making a mockery of the Crusaders' defence, the Chiefs made fewer metres and breaks than in either of their previous outings this season. What they did display was impeccable defence and strong discipline (despite a couple of sin-bins) and a faultless set piece. Incredibly they won all 17 of their lineouts and stole one from the Canterbury side; and they also won both scrum feeds and caused their opponents to lose one of theirs; this, remember, against a set-piece we had expected to cause the Chiefs problems
These facets of the Chiefs' game were not apparent against the Blues or the Brumbies. In fact, each game has shown a different edge to this team: against the Blues, we saw some flamboyance flawed by errors, in game two, against the Brumbies, we had some backs-against-the-wall grit coupled with clinical goal-kicking; while in game three the Chiefs were simply relentless. The repertoire of their toolkit must be frightening for their rivals in this competition, though the question now is sustainability after proving their adaptability.
|Chiefs 2015: Match by Match 2015|
|Chiefs Averages 2012-2015: Season by Season|
|Kicks from Hand|
|Time in Possession|
Perhaps the most striking difference in the Chiefs so far in 2015 - in particular against the Crusaders - is the volume of offloads they are producing. This is partly thanks to the addition of Williams, who has been nothing short of first class after a two-year exile from the game in the other code; but the Chiefs across the board are keeping it alive when going into contact. And this makes their lower turnover rate all the more impressive.
The length and depth of this purple patch of form will tell us the likelihood of the Chiefs reaching this season's final, but early indications suggest they are expanding their skillset - and that upward curve makes them a daunting proposition for any of their 14 rivals. The Highlanders are next up, in Hamilton, and Brett McKay was right to suggest in Three Points this week that they "are not a terrible side, but I fear for their safety on Friday evening".