RYAN VREDE reports on the Chiefs’ 29-22 victory over the Brumbies secured through a Jackson Willison try at the death.
It was by no means convincing but the Chiefs continue their early-season march, giving further fuel to the growing belief that they will be among the teams involved in the business end of the tournament. To progress beyond the play-offs they need to exorcise the demons that sporadically tempt them to abandon a balanced approach in favour of crowd-pleasing panache.
The Chiefs at times resembled the rudderless side they were last year, shifting the ball laterally without any platform to do so effectively. Where purpose had characterised their attacks prior to this match, there was too much hope of individual brilliance, which was in short supply. It was no surprise that both their tries were built on pragmatic phase play.
Credit to the Brumbies for their structure, accuracy and power on defence – hallmarks of a Jake White team. The pressure they were able to exert in this regard contributed significantly to a string of handling errors the Chiefs committed, although a number of their cough-ups were simply schoolboy.
The Brumbies should have been ahead at the break (tied 9-9) having shown greater composure on attack but lacking the killer blow in the red zone. Their phase play and rolling mauls troubled the Chiefs, who lacked the gainline physicality to stifle the former and the organisational skill to quell the latter. Their lack of punch in the tackle compromised their breakdown contest and resulted in them conceding a string of breakdown penalties, which Christian Lealiifano duly banked.
He traded three pointers with Aaron Cruden, the flyhalves kicking five apiece to lock the scores at 15-all going into the final quarter. However, you sensed that the Chiefs had the edge. With their cavalier spirit reigned in slightly they were able to exert pressure in a manner they never were in the first half. They worked through phases and rewarded when Sona Taumalolo drove over from close range. Cruden converted to give his side the lead with seven minutes to play.
But then the Chiefs showed their tactically naive side once more, attempting to run themselves out of their territory instead of punting deep and forcing the Brumbies to take risks. They turned over possession and with four minutes to play Brumbies lock Sam Carter burrowed over the whitewash. Lealiifano held his nerve to level the scores once more from a difficult angle.
But the Chiefs redeemed themselves immediately. They depleted the Brumbies’ defensive line through multiple phases before shifting the ball to Willison for the match-winning score.