Chiefs' Super Rugby season at a crossroads as tough South Africa trip arrives

Chiefs' Super Rugby season at a crossroads as tough South Africa trip arrives

PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES

Chiefs coach Colin Cooper has a job to do to get his side back on track if they are to be a genuine Super Rugby title threat.

The Chiefs' Super Rugby season now looks to be at a crossroads, as some battered bodies and souls climb aboard for the long haul to South Africa.

In the wake of their 23-19 slump to the Jaguares in Rotorua on Friday night, the Chiefs' hopes of being a realistic title contender could well now hinge on what plays out in next weekend's clash against the Stormers in Cape Town.

They still hold a handy enough 6-3 record for the year, but are in danger of losing touch in the Kiwi conference - in fourth spot and, depending what happens with other results this weekend, potentially as many as six points behind their local rivals after as many games, and 11 off the top-placed Crusaders (who have played one game more).

The Chiefs fell victim to a revitalised Jaguares team in Rotorua on Friday night.

JEREMY WARD/PHOTOSPORT

The Chiefs fell victim to a revitalised Jaguares team in Rotorua on Friday night.

Sitting sixth on the overall log, the Chiefs are still genuine playoff material, but it's been shown time and again how tough it is to win the competition playing away from home in the finals. It means a top-two finish in the conference bare minimum, for a home quarterfinal at least.

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But the Chiefs are going to have their work cut out in the four matches before the June international break.

Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane will miss the tour to South Africa due to an abdominal strain.

PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES

Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane will miss the tour to South Africa due to an abdominal strain.

What makes the Stormers clash even more vital is there is the second leg of the tour to contend with, where the Chiefs will be stripped of all their All Blacks against the Sharks in Durban because it clashes with a national three-day camp for North Island players in Auckland.

Not ideal at all, for a team already carrying their fair share of injury concerns.

Just who boards the bus from Hamilton to Auckland at 2.30am on Sunday is anyone's guess, with the club not publicly naming their travelling party prior to departure, and coach Colin Cooper probably almost at the stage where he'd throw a boarding pass to anyone with boots.

Chiefs co-captain Charlie Ngatai says the squad's inexperienced players will have to be leaned on.

PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES

Chiefs co-captain Charlie Ngatai says the squad's inexperienced players will have to be leaned on.

Co-captain Sam Cane (abdominal strain) and fellow loose forward Lachlan Boshier (appendicitis) have both been ruled out of the trip, having been late scratchings from the Jaguares game, while fellow openside option Mitchell Karpik is questionable after a concussion in a club match last weekend.

Lock Tyler Ardron was to also go through concussion protocols before any travel, after taking a knock against the Jaguares. Cooper said he did pass the HIA test on the night, but wasn't risked, with the South African trip in mind.

Ironically, it's other positions where the Chiefs could be bolstered, with outside backs Sean Wainui (shoulder) and Shaun Stevenson (knee) in line to return, and tighthead prop Sefo Kautai (foot) also a possibility for his first action of the season.

Cooper confirmed all his fit All Blacks - Nathan Harris, Brodie Retallick, Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown - will face the Stormers, which then means McKenzie and Lienert-Brown will have to have either of the ensuing home matches against the Waratahs or the Crusaders as their second All Blacks stand-down game, before the French test series.

It will mean more big tests of character for the Chiefs, and be about others coming to the party, with New Zealand Rugby having granted them dispensation to take 29 players to South Africa.

"It's a tough competition, we've just got to regroup," Cooper said. "We've got some good leaders among the group, we've got some young men that I'm sure will step up."

Added co-captain Charlie Ngatai:

"We trust the depth in our team. We've got young players that can really play as well. So as leaders we've just got to get them up to scratch and try and get them moving forward as opposed to dwelling on the loss."

 - Stuff


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Source link : https://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/super-rugby/103556665/chiefs-super-rugby-season-at-a-crossroads-as-tough-south-africa-trip-arrives
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Publish date : 2018-05-05 04:25:00
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