Victor Matfield says the 10-12 axis of Mike Delany and Stephen Donald gives the Chiefs tactical versatility they never had before.
The Chiefs snapped a three-game losing streak with their victory over the Highlanders on Saturday. Prior to that, Donald was widely criticised in the New Zealand media for his role in the slump, with some calling for his omission.
Chiefs coach Ian Foster, however, accommodated Donald at inside centre, bringing Delany into flyhalf for the Highlanders match, and the pair seemed to complement each other well. Foster has selected the duo to front the Bulls in Hamilton on Friday.
Delany’s natural instinct is for ball in hand attack, while Donald is more suited to a tactical game. Matfield noted how their combination amplified the Chiefs’ threat.
‘They were fairly predictable in the past, and that is not meant as a snipe at them because they were very good at executing the type of game they wanted to play. It suited their strengths because they have some athletic forwards and very dangerous backs. But you generally knew what to expect.
‘However, with Donald at 12 and Delany at 10 they can play in a number of different ways. They’ve tried to stretch us in the past, but I suspect they’ll be slightly more conservative on Friday, with that pair, especially Donald, and [scrumhalf] Brendon Leonard, kicking quite a bit. They’ll probably look to get in behind us and pin us in our half.’
Coach Frans Ludeke agreed with his captain’s prediction, but stressed that they were still a formidable attacking unit.
‘They took good options against the Highlanders in terms of deciding when to kick, keep it tight and when to go wide. They’ll probably be more conservative than what we’ve become used to, but conservative shouldn’t be mistaken for less dangerous,’ Ludeke said.
‘In fact, that they showed patience in their build up play suggests that they are maturing as a team, and that makes them dangerous.’
Matfield, however, said that placing too much emphasis on the duo would be foolish. He added that the Chiefs were competitive at the set phases, were deadly from broken field, and had game breakers who have the potential to unlock even the most structured of defensive lines.
‘You have to be accurate and physical in the collisions because if they get behind you or are able to offload you’re in trouble,’ he said.
‘I actually thought we defended pretty well against the Blues on Saturday [the Bulls conceded two tries in their 32-17 defeat]. We had to make 220 tackles and you are going to miss some when you’re dealing with that type of figure, but I don’t think that was at the root at the problem. Our discipline let us down. We just conceded too many penalties and that is an area we have to improve on.’
Matfield added that the defeat hadn’t demoralised the team. ‘We started at zero on Monday and if you don’t play every game in this competition like it’s a final you’re in trouble,’ he said.
‘This game is about exerting pressure then taking your chances when they come, and that’s what we’ll look to do against the Chiefs.’
By Ryan Vrede