Brumbies Nightmare to End at Hands of Champions Elect
Arguably the two best teams from the respective sides of the Tasman will meet in a clash that could determine whether or not the Chiefs can go all the way this season.
If they win, they will receive a home semi-final with the possibility of a home final if the Bulls are tripped up by the Sharks.
The Durban-based side are more than capable of beating their neighbours, but the 2007 champions are final round specialists if there is such a thing.
In their last three rounds of Super competition, the Bulls have scored 60, 92, and 43 points.
So it is a Chiefs side that waits for the Brumbies; that will only lose favouritism for the title should they have to travel to Pretoria to play a possible final.
And what a team it is.
They are certainly not all powerful. Their scrum and line out has had minor issues throughout the competition, and there is only a solitary test cap amongst their tight five.
But it has improved over the season, and while these areas were heavily targeted by the Hurricanes last week, a workmanlike performance from the Chiefs forwards ultimately took the contest on a point’s decision.
Their strengths though are quite remarkable, and on evidence of the result against a very good Hurricanes team, this is a side that is evolving and showing the necessary qualities to win a championship.
When it matters, their defence has functioned well, as have their set pieces.
So often understated when talking about a team, their loose forward operation has been as good as any in the competition.
Tanerau Latimer has been the dominant open side in New Zealand rugby this year, and Liam Messam is statistically only behind Otago’s Adam Thompson as the leading blind side of the tournament.
Such has been their efficiency, backed by their tight forwards, that Sione Lauaki often is not needed at the ruck.
Instead he wreaks utter mayhem in the loose, prowling in the backline like a bad dream.
Combined with a backline that has five first choice All Blacks, as well as probable new international Leila Masaga, and the attacking class of this team is beyond any other side in the competition.
And it is the only time this season they have been at full strength.
With the most wins, the most consecutive victories, and the best-ever South African touring result of the franchise, it is fair to say that this is the best Chiefs team ever seen.
Their opponents arrive in a season that has dripped character and seen them conquer all forms of diversity.
Australia’s greatest ever Super rugby team has shown (like the Crusaders) that irrespective of the Coach or playing personal, that their history and pedigree will always make them a formidable opponent.
Mid season, their campaign was hit with disaster, having to emotionally deal with the passing of one of their own.
A few weeks later, the emotion that had carried them to some unlikely wins crashed; falling to a franchise record loss at the hands of a rampant Hurricanes team.
But they turned it around, destroying the Reds in Brisbane and notching a half century in the process.
They then created their own fate by taking down the inconsistent Blues to put themselves in a position where they could qualify for the finals.
Beat the Chiefs, and they will qualify for the top four.
It will not be easy, with the key lying in the Brumbies front row, the only area on paper where they may dominate the Chiefs. Everywhere else, with the exception of Stirling Mortlock, the Brumbies are completely outclassed.
History may be on their side in front of a sold-out Waikato Stadium.
The last time the stadium was sold out (prior to last week) was in 2004. The Chiefs needed but a solitary bonus point to qualify for their first semi final.
The Brumbies arrived and defeated the Chiefs 15-12. The Waikato-based team got their bonus point, but then had to travel to Canberra for a semi final rematch with the Brumbies, which they won 32-17 on their way to a second title.
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 14, Brumbies 9, Chiefs 4, Drawn 1
LAST MATCH: April 4, 2008, Chiefs 42–28 Brumbies @ Canberra
Chiefs:15 Mils Muliaina (captain), 14 Leila Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Kevin O'Neill, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 James McGougan, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Ben May. Replacements:16 Hika Elliot, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Toby Lynn, 19 Serge Lilo, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Dwayne Sweeney, 22 Sosene Anesi.
Brumbies:15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Clyde Rathbone, 13 Stirling Mortlock, 12 Tyrone Smith, 11 Francis Fainifo, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Patrick Phibbs, 8 Stephen Hoiles (c), 7 George Smith, 6 Julian Salvi, 5 Peter Kimlin, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 Stephen Moore/Huia Edmonds, 1 Ben Alexander. Replacements:16 Huia Edmonds/John Ulugia, 17 Salesi Ma'afu, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Henry Vanderglas, 20 Joshua Holmes, 21 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 22 Sanualio Afeaki.
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