The Chiefs were one of the most exciting teams in the 2017 Super Rugby competition. Often lighting up the scoreboard with their ability to get their lightning quick backs out in space. This is a team that is fun to watch – albeit one that still seems to be overmatched when taking on some of the more structured and possession based New Zealand Conference teams.
Here is a look back at 2017 for the Chiefs:
Damian McKenzie was named as the SANZAAR Player of the Year for the second straight season and while the metrics used to decide that award are clearly flawed, McKenzie did more than enough to merit the accolade.
When playing fullback on a counter attacking team it is important that you know how to attack with the ball. McKenzie was top of the charts in 2017 in carries (242), metres gained (1,669) and defenders beaten (80). He also added in 55 clean breaks, 26 offloads, and amassed 140 points.
McKenzie is not a one trick pony. While counter attacking is his bread and butter, he also is outstanding at joining the Chiefs back line as a playmaker in that second receiver spot. As he matures, he will learn to dictate games from this position, a frightening prospect for the other Super Rugby squads.
The disappointment for the Chiefs in 2017 was their inability to get past the semifinal stage with their talented on field players and their skilled coaches behind the scenes. Coach Dave Rennie is off to pastures new in 2018 (Glasgow Warriors) after a six-year stint with the Chiefs that included a pair of championship wins (2012 & 2013) and Finals qualification in every season under his watch.
The Crusaders game was always going to be a tough one as the Christchurch team plays a style of rugby that chokes the life out of attacking sides. Even so, the Chiefs know they had the chances to win and make another Final if only their execution had been better inside the eventual Super Rugby Champions’ 22-metre line.
The Chiefs best game of the year – for several reasons – was their 24-15 Round 1 win over the Highlanders.
This was a game that the Chiefs just had to win to get their season started, especially with two more New Zealand derbies to follow directly after this one. It snapped a run of six straight defeats at the hands of the Highlanders and it showed that the Chiefs could win a game in opportunistic fashion when they needed to. It was also a game that showed that they could win a game with solid defence and not always need to outscore their opposition.
There are a number of contenders here as the Chiefs – for a team that had a great season on the whole – also laid down a few stinkers along the way. The choice could have been a pair of miserable wins over the Western Force and then the Stormers (in the quarterfinal) but the 16-16 draw with the Blues just about gets the nod.
This was the same Blues team that the Chiefs had battered 41-26 earlier in the year, but wet conditions are just not conducive to the style of rugby that the Hamilton side wants to play. If Piers Francis had hit a 73rd-minute penalty, then maybe the Chiefs don’t even make the playoffs, but the draw still put them in danger and needing a late run to seal their Finals berth.
Reason For Hope
The Chiefs have a great young core and those players will need to step up in a big way next season. McKenzie is going to get his shot at #10 – his preferred position – as the Chiefs lose both their starting halfbacks to France with Tawera Kerr-Barlow (La Rochelle) and Aaron Cruden (Montpellier) both moving on.
McKenzie was poor in the fly-half jersey for the New Zealand Maori against the British & Irish Lions, To his defence, that team was basically thrown together and no combinations developed. If the 22-year-old can translate his skills to the half-back position, then the Chiefs could be even more exciting to watch in 2018.
Overall Grade – B-
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