2010 Super 14 Season Review: Chiefs
The most difficult post mortem that will come out of the Chiefs season is that many, including the team itself, would have expected the Waikato-based franchise to build on their maiden final appearance last year and again threaten for the title.
When they kicked off their season (without captain Mils Muliaina, who was rested for the early stages) and jumped out to record their best ever season start and notch three away wins, many began thinking the Chiefs were on track to reach their third semifinal and finally announce themselves as a perennial title contender.
Yet after those glorious first three weeks, the side would win only one more game.
To truly highlight what is unfortunately a fall from grace, it was the franchise's worst finish in the Super 14 and on a par with their horror years of 2003, 2000, and 1997, when they finished at least 10th.
So what happened?
In reality, it was a combination of factors that ensured the side was on the back foot as the season progressed, and unfortunately for the team, key aspects (primarily injuries) haunted the side as they have in previous campaigns.
Not once were the Chiefs able to field a full strength starting XV, and players that encapsulate the Waikato-based side’s game such as Mils Muliaina and Sitiveni Sivivatu were out for the majority of the season.
But while their freewheeling attack was so dominant last year that it made up for any other shortcomings in their game, 2010 was a year where ultimately the sides with blue chip forward packs were the teams with the advantage.
Long heralded as a potential Achilles heel for the team, the Chiefs tight five and constantly changed (due to injury) back row was unable to either adjust or compete, especially against marquee forward-based teams like the Stormers, Bulls, and Waratahs.
Missing key second rowers from start to finish was a huge problem for the Chiefs, and the new law interpretations ironically seemed to cripple the side as the season wore on.
Last year, the classic policing of the ruck suited the Chiefs systems, but they were outgunned when it counted when it came to contesting the ball on the deck and supplying the most precious commodity for such a side: quick ball.
Still, the disposition of the players was evident for all to see, with their run of three losses to the Reds, Crusaders and Brumbies, all title competitors, being by proud margins of seven points or less.
It was though against the Bulls and the Stormers (as it was for most teams this season) where the Chiefs lack of a full arsenal was laid bare, with the two South African heavyweights systematically dismantling the Chiefs game to all but finish their season just beyond the halfway point.
As was seen throughout the season, the Chiefs were also caught on the hop in regard to their strategic adaptations as well.
The region, though the Waikato provincial sides and the Chiefs franchise, has long been feared for their defensive prowess, primarily through their rushing tackling system.
Yet the Chiefs finished the season as the second worst defensive team, conceding more than 60 points than any of their campaigns in the competition's history.
Too quickly was it discovered by teams that the “rush” often was not co-ordinated, and even in their last game against the Blues the pattern was continued which their Northern rivals took full advantage of.
Still, the opportunities were still plentiful for the team, with the atrocious injury toll giving opportunities to young players such as Tim-Nanai Williams.
But for all of the game's complexities, rugby is still (pardon the over used cliché) a game won up front.
Despite fielding arguably the most dangerous backline in the competition, the Chiefs could not compete at season-defining moments, and will hope to address this as the competition morphs into the Super 15.
Chiefs 2010 season
Beat Sharks 19-18
Beat Lions 72-65
Beat Force 37-19
Lost Reds 18-23
Lost Crusaders 19-26
Lost Brumbies 23-30
Beat Highlanders 27-21
Lost Bulls 27-41
Lost Stormers 15-49
Drew Cheetahs 25-25
Lost Hurricanes 27-33
Lost Waratahs 19-46
Lost Blues 20-30
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