The frustration was clear to see, with Warren Gatland experiencing a lean spell of wins with his Chiefs Super Rugby franchise.
After gaining four wins in the pre-Covid19 regular season, since the new Super Rugby Aotearoa competition resumed his side can hardly buy a win. Three losses from three matches and the close results are something that shows the tiny variables needed to taste victory in New Zealand local derby games, is just out of the reach for the Chiefs.
Firstly, his sone Bryn stole a win with a late drop goal in Dunedin. Then at home, his Chiefs felt the form of the competition leading Blues, and Warren Gatland lost to his northern neighbours to drop two games. Now, after a bye round, his side went down to the more calculating Crusaders – and it showed in the former Wales coach’s comments.
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While focusing on one try could be negative, the view is that hiring a top coach would necessarily bring with it victories. So, after three straight losses, the franchise’s self-analysis will be a natural topic of discussion.
Warren Gatland can’t buy a Chiefs win post-Covid19
Going from defeating the three-time Champions on February 8 to going down in a frustrating loss is a tough pill to swallow. Admittedly handed a tough draw of four straight games before a Bye, it was a challenge accepted by Gatland when he made his domestic competition goals in May. Those may not have been quite so different than those outlined when Gatland took over the Waikato franchise.
“They’re a great group of men to work with, I think it’s a team with some real potential to do well in the next two or three seasons. I think the Chiefs are going to really stamp their mark on this competition, we’re pretty excited about what we could potentially achieve.”
Then, with four wins and two losses from six matches, it did seem promising, yet in the last few weeks of resumed play, poor decisions and an inability to score points (only two tries prior to the Crusaders clash) had dashed those promises. Something any coach has to deal with yet the recent drought is quite the opposite to what rugby observers predicted.
Now, the proof has shown it was a harder task than imagined. Stats don’t lie and the disappointment on the face of Chiefs players was evident last Sunday afternoon.
A ‘rookie coach’ [to be honest] the surprise has been that post-Covid19, Gatland can hardly buy a win at a third-of-the-way through this unheralded 10-week season.
Close margins show how ‘tough it is’
“Each week, it’s such a deep rivalry, such great history, games can come down to the wire, a lot of these games have been small margins,” Scott Robertson told Stuff post-match. His side earned a bonus point in their opening week two fixture but, when meeting the Chiefs, there was only five points in it.
Narrow points lead, usually within the range of a converted try, all adds to the excitement. But when you are an experienced International coach, the feeling that his team is just ‘off the pace’ must be galling. Good news has been countered by bad, and even by Gats standards, media attention is all too focused.
Gatland saw the return of his skipper Sam Cane. Yet it was soon tinged with the season-ending injury to All Black Luke Jacobson. So his resources are not quite at 100%. But still, with the even nature of the derby games, a win should come if the Chiefs can remain composed.
”We knew we really needed to come down here and get a win, but we’re not going to say it’s over because the nature of the New Zealand teams is anyone can knock over anyone, but it certainly means we’ve probably got to win every one going forward,” Cane said.
”I thought we were a lot better side than last week, we looked a lot more composed when the pressure came on, but it doesn’t take away we still fell short and that hurts, especially considering what was on the line.”
For Gatland, stopping his men from feeling hurt is pivotal. So finding the positive in a bad situation must be found. And here, Warren Gatland did see some bright points. “Normally, the Crusaders, 18-3 up, they go away and put teams away. I was really proud of our guys, they showed some real character there and got back into the game.”
Character, resolve, and determination are needed in Round Four. Consecutive games could have taken a toll, as will each one of the local derby games so a win over the Hurricanes this weekend in Hamilton is the best formula to resolve this ‘unfamiliar sequence’ for the Chiefs head coach.
Super Rugby Aotearoa – Round five
Highlanders v Crusaders – Forsyth-Barr Stadium, Saturday July 4
Chiefs v Hurricanes – FMG Stadium Waikato, Sunday July 5
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