Chiefs coach Dave Rennie hopes that the Super Rugby regular-season format and playoff structure will be altered in 2018. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Chiefs arrived in Cape Town late on Monday night after a 30-hour trip from New Zealand. Rennie and co-captain Aaron Cruden looked like they were still recovering from the taxing journey when they addressed the media on Tuesday afternoon.
The Chiefs will need to adjust to the new time zone in the lead-up to their quarter-final showdown against the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday. It’s a challenge that many teams are faced with at the business end of the tournament. As Rennie pointed out, the Sharks will need to adapt in the same manner before they meet the Hurricanes in Wellington this weekend.
And yet the Chiefs have reason to feel hard done by on this occasion. If the final standings were determined by log points alone, and if the top teams were rewarded with home advantage in the playoffs, three of the New Zealand sides would be hosting knockout games this week. Instead of travelling to Cape Town, the Chiefs would be hosting the Stormers in Hamilton.
There’s been a lot of talk about the flawed regular-season format as well as the fact that each of the four conference winners are guaranteed a home playoff. On Tuesday, Rennie questioned the wisdom of these decisions. At the same time, he pointed out that the format will remain in place for at least another year and that his charges weren’t about to use it as an excuse for underperforming in the knockouts.
‘It’s not going to change,’ the Chiefs coach said. ‘We talked about it a couple of years ago [when the format received the green light]. Obviously we had some questions about it, how it was going to work and so on. We knew that winning our conference would be the biggest goal. But now we’ve finished high [in the overall standings] to come through. It is what it is, and we have to make the best of it. Next year, we are on the Stormers’ side of the draw. In 2018 they will have another look at it, and alter it a bit.'
While not a fan of the new format, Rennie said the added challenge of travelling extensively had brought the team closer together.
‘The New Zealand conference is tough, anybody can beat anyone,’ said Rennie. ‘The Aussies probably weren’t as strong this year, and that’s the reason they only had one team qualifying by topping their conference.
‘It’s a different competition. There’s a lot more travel, with the teams having to go to Argentina [and Asia] as well now. We’ve been forced to adapt a lot, I guess. The one advantage is that we’ve played a lot of games away from Hamilton. We’ve done pretty well on the road.
‘The boys have a pretty positive mindset in terms of coming here to Cape Town and winning it. So we’re just happy that we got to the finals, and we can’t worry too much about the conference stage now.’
Competing in the New Zealand conference may also give the Chiefs an edge over the Stormers, a side that hasn’t faced Kiwi opponents since 2015. Cruden felt the Chiefs were in a good space, despite their loss to the Highlanders last week.
‘We’ve had two New Zealand derbies in the past three weeks. Just competing at that level ahead of the final series is key,’ said the All Blacks flyhalf.
‘Hopefully we can use that to our advantage. There may be key stages in the game on Saturday, stages when things might not be going so well. We’ve been there before, and we back ourselves to adapt and change the momentum of the game. We've had so many tough games this season, and that should help us [in the playoff against the Stormers].’
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