Going into this clash, head coach Colin Cooper had issues with player fitness. Unavailable to him, 15 of his players were stricken from his traveling squad. So to have two players stolen to late injury, it was mounting. In a key result however, the Chiefs use adversary as motivation in their Local Derby win.
The traditional ‘Battle of the Bombays’ went the way of the visitors, 21-27. A win that continued a poor recent record. 12 losses in a row, which can now be recorded as 13 losses now, and some what of a bigger concern to Auckland rugby fans.
A loss that deflated some of the hopes that Auckland rugby supporters had promoted. They had been [at times] impressive in the opening stages of 2018. Shaded by the Highlanders, the sense of change was apparent, with a good crowd that half filled the bulky Eden Park.
But in all the positive speak, in all the active media that envelopes the Blues, on-the-field their players are not taking their opportunities.
Chiefs use adversary as Motivation in Local Derby Win
The devastated Chiefs line-up was little reflection on the ‘first choice’ picks which Colin Cooper might have identified in pre-season. But in a show of internal strength, the side performed more than admirably.
The outcome of the match went against the theory of many. After the tough match against the Crusaders last week, that removed many frontline players – including Chris Bird, Tim Nanai-Williams and Charlie Ngatai – so the Blues were given an inherited favouritism.
That, unfortunately, did not go to plan Friday night.
Forced to make late changes, Chiefs react well to adversary
Just why the pressure was on, was revealed by Colin Cooper post match. Brodie Retallick was the unlucky recipient of a finger to the eye in training. Not improving, his importance over the season was considered, and Mitchell Brown was asked to start.
“That forces you to look at your depth, we’re gonna go to South Africa, and we’re pretty slammed in that area [locks]. We are lucky we brought 24 players, because of all the injuries.
“We got a SANZAAR dispensation, so we were lucky we had Luke Jacobson. Able to have an extra forward, and we totally needed that,” was the summary by Cooper.
The final drama was a late, pre-game training injury to Shaun Stevenson which meant that a quick reaction was needed. With less options in the backs, the Chiefs moved to promote Tiaan Falcon from the bench; bringing in Jacobson. That would place a lot of pressure on the Hawke’s Bay first-five (his debut cap) but it was calculated.
— Chiefs Rugby (@ChiefsRugby) August 4, 2017
in selecting falcon “It’s just backing the kid. To tell Tiaan that we had a lot of trust in him.”
And that confidence by Cooper and his assistant coaches, was what instilled a belief in the whole side last night, and assisted them to overcome adversary.
Game Plan was to make the players Excited over opportunities
“I was just proud of the effort. In that second half we used the wind, as we knew the Blues were going to run it. It was the heart, the connections in D [defence] and making their tackles that won it.”
After the restart, a forwards try by Mitchell Brown was followed quickly be a lucky break. Dropped ball from the hosts landed perfectly for Brad Weber to scamper 50 meters and score. That one-two punch threw the Blues off, and what pleased Cooper was how his leaders on the field all stood up. Sam Cane was immense, working in the tight and disrupting Blues ball. Liam Messam too (see main picture) – who seems never to age – all contributed.
Damian McKenzie also showed plenty. Still adjusting to the first-five role, he interchanged well with Falcon. Not place kicking as well as he is usually expected too ou have to say, he also took several decent shots. Winded by a huge hit from Matt Duffie, the player known as ‘Big Jim’ got right back-up. A quality admired by Cooper and the All Blacks coaches.
Asked how he motivated the side, Cooper said that he talked of opportunity. “Just get excited! [he told them]. Here’s an opportunity, put your hand up”. And players like Sean Wainui and Taleni Seu did that.
“I talked about Chiefs Mana, I saw a lot of that from this group.”
Local Derby Win harder to come by in 2018
“Are you enjoying these NZ derbies? They are pretty brutal,” was a question put to Cooper. The former Hurricanes coached chuckled, “when I was last here, it was only once!”
Joking at how the increase in frequency of the local derby games had made the competition even tougher, although you know that he would not want it any other way. “I spoke to Tana when we were coaching the Maori. It’s really tough. We have to play the Blues again.” That demand is where squad depth (and squad health) is key to success.
As much, decisions on the field need to benefit the result too. Asked by Last Word on Rugby if a choice to kick for the sideline was respected; rather than go for a penalty kick in front, Cooper was agreeable…. but also circumspect. “They back themselves. The leadership decided to go for the lineout.”
Asked if he was happy with their choice, he said quickly “I wanted the kick taken. I’m old school, conservative and [he paused] we’ll talk about it”. Coach speak for ‘I’d want them to judge if it was appropriate on every occasion’. But commentators could tell that the Chiefs had prevailed through adversity. They had to work hard, and the Blues might too find some positives out of the result.
Almost unexpected, but certainly a well earned win by the visitors.
A gutsy come behind performance see the team come away from Eden Park with a 27-21 victory over the Blues for our first win of the Investec Super Rugby season! FULL REPORT: https://t.co/lLsATv3l2C pic.twitter.com/TClIE2h3wT
— Chiefs Rugby (@ChiefsRugby) March 2, 2018
As Sam Cane was later heard to say to Fairfax Media, “to do well you’ve got to be at the top of the conference. 1 from 2 is pretty awesome; heading into the bye.”
That awesome feeling will be throughout the side. Because the entire side needed to make a collective effort. That will feel very fulfilling, while Tana Umaga and his defeated group try to reconcile when the long drought of local derby wins will one day fall their way.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images