Rugby Union: Resurgent Chiefs will take some stopping

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RUGBY betting analyst Christian Murray (@wncomwncobutt) returns with his best bets from Friday morning's Super Rugby action.

Jaguares v Chiefs | Friday 21st June 2019, 11:05 | Sky Sports

I think it’s safe to say that you would have gotten very high odds on the Chiefs to win the Super Rugby championship after a heavy defeat away to the Crusaders saw them slump to a 0-4 start to the season. In fact, on the Thursday prior to their final round 18 match they were still quoted at odds of 70-1 to win the whole shamonka.

Suffice to say, the odds on the Kiwi franchise have now shortened somewhat after a barnstorming bonus point victory over the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday secured a play-off spot here against the Jaguares.

Most, including the Chiefs management had resigned themselves to the unenviable task of having to play the reigning champions Crusaders in Christchurch in the quarter-finals but a last-minute try in Cape Town meant the Waikato outfit have managed to dodge that bullet. Instead, they head to Argentina – a tough game but a path to a possible final appearance could have been made much harder had they finished eighth.

Finishing sixth means the Chiefs avoid the half of the draw which contains both the Hurricanes and Crusaders. Beat the Jaguares and they play the winner of the Brumbies or the Sharks. All three teams are beatable, and with the exception of the Brumbies, they’ve already beaten this season. Both wins came during trying times for a franchise beset by injuries and low on confidence after a bad run of form.

A remarkable Chiefs turnaround

Sure, the Brumbies stuck over 50 points on the Chiefs in Week 2, but that team was a poor imitation of the side that many New Zealand pundits are now touting as the form team heading into the play-offs.

The Chiefs winning performances in their last three games, which included only a second loss for the Crusaders in Fiji, are so far removed from the team that started the competition with four defeats, it’s quite remarkable. Let’s not forget that after a chastening defeat at the hands of the Sunwolves in Week 3, many in the press were questioning the new coaching set-up and calling for head coach Colin Cooper to be sacked.

The Chiefs were nothing short of terrible in those first four matches, beset by injuries, abject and shapeless in defence with an over reliance on Damian McKenzie in attack. They looked disjointed, lacked continuity, leadership, leaked points and turned the ball over to easily. How things have changed.

Coming into Week 12, after two defeats on the bounce and with their play-off hopes hanging in the balance, the Chiefs they went to Forsyth Barr to play the Highlanders. To me, this is where their season turned around. Losing 31-10 with 30 minutes to play and with the Highlanders on top, they and their season looked down and out. In the face of adversity they showed that famous Chiefs ‘Mana’ spirit to score twice to earn an invaluable draw.

Shift in attacking tactics

It wasn’t just the result and the comeback from such a deficit that made people take notice, but a significant difference in the Chiefs attacking style of play. It was something they had tried to adopt against the Hurricanes the week before without much success due to a high number of turnovers. Against the Highlanders it was a different matter.

The Chiefs started moving the point of their forward attack around the ruck. Instead of one-up runners taking ball into contact, they would set the defender and before getting hit look to shift a pass or two. This allowed them to get away from the congestion of the breakdown to target outside shoulders of defenders not set and suck in the midfield.

They had some success early in that Highlanders match but really used it to good effect in the last 20, exposing weak two-out defence to make huge territory gains. When the passes are sticking and you have a surplus of willing runners, it’s difficult to stop.

This is the blueprint Cooper adopted for the remainder of the season and it has paid dividends. Minus a blip against the Blues in Week 14, they’ve resurrected their slim play-off hopes with four wins in their last five games, making a major statement in Suva and Melbourne in their last two outings – racking up 15 tries and 99 points.

Defensive improvements

It was also good to see a big improvement in the Chiefs’ defensive efforts towards the back end of the season. They’ve conceded 44 points and six tries in their last 3 games, 20 of the points and three of the tries coming in one half against the Crusaders. It’s probably no surprise to learn that the better defensive effort has coincided with the return of talismanic flanker Sam Cane. The Chiefs haven’t lost since his inclusion and they seem a lot better organised with him and Brodie Ratallick in the team in Melbourne.

One player who I believe deserves a special mention is scrum half Brad Weber. He’s been awesome since re-establishing himself as first-choice nine. He’s at the heart of everything the Chiefs do well. He started the season as understudy to up-and-coming current All Black Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.

It was a brave call from Cooper to go against the New Zealand management and replace him with Weber half way through the season. That’s one call he’s got correct. On current form Weber is the best scrum half in New Zealand and if I were Steve Hansen he’d be ahead of Aaron Smith and TJ Perenera in the pecking order. Shame the Anytime Tryscorer odds are not available at this time.

The betting angles

It’s not going to be an easy game in Buenos Aires – the Jaguares have won nine of their last 10 matches to deservedly top the South African conference. They’ll be pumped up for their first-ever home play-off game in front of their raucous and passionate fans.

I just feel that the Chiefs have that bit more big-match experience in their squad. They will play a little smarter, with a bit more nous and commitment. Let’s not forget the Chiefs have already played three play-off-type mus- win games in order to get here so will be battle-hardened.

Due to the injury list at the start of the season the Chiefs had to use a lot of the squad so younger team members like Jesse Parete have had a lot of game time, so that’ll benefit them coming off the bench. They also beat a full-strength Jaguares in Week 7 in Argentina so know what to expect and what is required.

For me, it’s a Chiefs win and with the Brumbies due a bad game against the Sharks in Canberra, the Chiefs will meet the winners of the Hurricanes and Crusaders in the final, which sets up my selections for the Chiefs to reach the final (23/4 Sport Nation), as well as the Chiefs to win by 1-12 here (14/5 Blacktype) and I’ll have an interest in the Jaguares/Chiefs flip-flop in the Double Result market at 8/1 (William Hill).

Best Bets

Jaguares v Chiefs – Chiefs to win by 1-12 points (14/5 Blacktype)

Jaguares v Chiefs – Jaguares/Chiefs (8/1 William Hill)

Super Rugby – Chiefs to reach the final (23/4 Sport Nation)

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