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Efficient Chiefs cruise past Lions

Date

Marc Hinton

Chiefs 34 Lions 21

Chiefs halfback Brendon Leonard.

Chiefs halfback Brendon Leonard. Photo: Getty Images

Moneyball, the Hollywood types would brand it. Picking players based on stats to produce results. Down in Chiefs country they just call it winning rugby.

MATCH STATS

And that winning continued tonight as Dave Rennie's Super Rugby-leading Chiefs made relatively short work of competition doormats the Lions 34-21 in front of 12,364 fans.

Draw the defender ... Sonny Bill Williams of the Chiefs looks to pass.

Draw the defender ... Sonny Bill Williams of the Chiefs looks to pass. Photo: Getty Images

It was not the bloodbath that some predicted on a relatively pleasant May night in Pukekohe, but the Chiefs dealt efficiently and entertainingly with an outmatched Lions outfit as they ran in four tries to three to storm back to the top of the table with their ninth victory in 10 matches.

To say the Chiefs are on a roll - they have now won nine straight since that opening-round defeat - is an understatement. They are humming, playing a fabulous mix of hard, committed and efficient rugby up front and some slick and scintillating stuff out wide when the opportunities present.

Tonight they absorbed their fair share of pressure from a Lions side who played with plenty of aggression and intent. But the Chiefs dished out a lesson in how to punish the South Africans off turnover ball, coasting to a victory that was never ever in doubt from early in the second half. 

It wasn't exactly a classic display from the competition's form side, who rested a few tired bods this week and may have paid a momentum price for it. The three tries were the most the competition's best defence has conceded this season, and they rather lost their way in the final quarter when things got decidedly messy.

But the Chiefs did what they had to. With two tries in each half they banked the bonus point, and emerged seemingly unscathed on the injury front. They took the best shots of an opponent who played with plenty of freedom, and had more than enough up their sleeves to tote up another victory.

Of course it is no fluke that these Chiefs finally have some substance to go with the style that's been a characteristic of theirs for a few years now.

It's all very well having arguably the world's best midfield, and such classy operators as Aaron Cruden, Lelia Masaga and Brendon Leonard in your backline, but you've got to have the forwards to lay the foundation up front.

Unlike their predecessors over the years, these Chiefs certainly have that.

"We picked a lot of guys based on work ethic," Rennie told me recently. "We trawled through all the stats from the NPC to find guys we thought would graft and work hard for us. I think we're seeing the benefits of that."

Rennie says a lot of his pack's achievements this season must go down to assistant coach Tom Coventry whom he described as "demanding and old-fashioned". As if the two were mutually exclusive.

"We need to be able to challenge up front and be a threat up front to create space out wide. When we get that right we're capable of some good things."

The Chiefs forwards tonight did the job splendidly. Even missing such form men as Liam Messam, Sona Taumalolo (who came off the bench), Brodie Retallick and Alex Bradley. The show rolled on, with the likes of Kane Thomson, Toby Smith and Sam Cane slotting in as though they'd been there all year.

Rennie said stats provided a valuable insight for coaches in certain work-related positions. And he reckoned the results were backing that up. "We're not looking for locks who play a wide game, we're looking for guys who get in and do some graft, move bodies and make tackles. We want to be combative and take teams on and we want to commit numbers around the edges.

"The philosophy is you pick guys who suit the style you want to play and certainly we were looking for guys up front who can work hard."

The Chiefs did it comfortably tonight on the back of first half tries to Cruden and skipper Craig Clarke - another of those tireless forwards - and a couple of second-spell gems to Masaga and Brendon Leonard.

Masaga's 48th-minute try was created by some Cruden magic off the boot, extending the margin to 20, while Leonard's, in the 56th minute, was a fabulous piece of opportunism created by the halfback's excellent vision and committed chase.

The hosts had looked like blowing the South Africans off the track at various times, but to their credit they hung tough and, largely via two excellent forward tries by replacement Cobus Grobbelaar and another from hard-working skipper Josh Strauss, the margin stayed respectable.

Next up for the Chiefs are the Reds in Brisbane next Sunday. Be sure of one thing: the formula won't change for the Super Rugby leaders.

CHIEFS 34 (Craig Clarke, Aaron Cruden, Brendon Leonard, Lelia Masaga tries Cruden 4 cons 2 pens) bt LIONS 21 (Cobus Grobbelaar 2, Joshua Strauss tries Elton Jantjies 3 cons) at Bayer Growers Stadium. Referee: Ian Smith.

AAP

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