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Chiefs and Sharks show creative play is not only entertaining - it also leads to a finals berth


Paul Cully

A winning formula ... the Chiefs have shown other teams that creativity can pay off.

A winning formula ... the Chiefs have shown other teams that creativity can pay off. Photo: AFP

The Chiefs, loaded with talent and invention from No.9 through to No.15, kick away possession every 47 seconds, the fourth-lowest figure in the competition.

In matches involving the Sharks, whose forwards and backs have embraced the offload, the ball is in play for longer than others, an average of 35 minutes and 29 seconds.

This year's Super Rugby finalists have ended the argument about the need for balance between winning and entertaining rugby. This year, the two have become synonymous.

Of course, the connection is particularly valid in Australia. ARU chief John O'Neill, with one eye on the TV ratings and crowd numbers, has been making the case for years.

His appeals to the five Australian teams to produce a more pleasing brand of rugby might come across as haughty sermons, but they are not baseless. Nor do they fail to reflect the view of the supporters, who watch games such as the poor Brumbies v Reds encounter in round 14 and collectively shrug their shoulders. Enough of the argument that Australian derbies have been below-par because there is so much at stake and the players know each other. The fans are not buying it.

Crowd figures and TV audiences are down slightly in Australia this year. It is probably an expression of apathy or disappointment rather than a grand protest, but the trend is still lower.

Meanwhile, Chiefs No.10 Aaron Cruden has been given the freedom to express himself and chance his arm. As a proportion of the possession he receives, he runs the ball more (19.5 per cent) than any other five-eighth.

In Durban, the Sharks' brilliant loose forward Marcell Coetzee has been charging into contact and seeking support runners with Sonny Bill Williams-style passes. The Sharks offload 7.1 times a game, second only to the Chiefs.

The style of the respective finalists hasn't happened by accident. The Chiefs, who will win tomorrow night's decider, could have easily persisted with the experienced Brendon Leonard, an All Black, at halfback. Instead, coach Dave Rennie gave exciting youngster Tawera Kerr-Barlow an extended run. Will Genia has raised the bar for No.9s.

Similar adventure at the selection table has brought the best out of pacy fullback Robbie Robinson. In the pack, 130-odd kilogram prop Ben Tameifuna provided one of the highlights of the season, chugging along in support during a Chiefs' counterattack against the Force at a surprising rate of knots.

At the Sharks, Kiwi coach John Plumtree has shown plenty of faith in Coetzee and fellow youngsters Tim Whitehead and Paul Jordaan. He has stuck with the Frenchman Freddie Michalak even when the more structured talents of Pat Lambie were available. Willem Alberts has been picked in the second row to accommodate the ball-playing Ryan Kankowski at No.8.

In this environment graceful Springboks winger/centre J.P. Pietersen has been reinvented. He appears to be having fun.

It did not always appear likely that this year's Super tournament would produce such worthy finalists. Conservatism was not strictly an Australian malaise. The round eight game between the Crusaders and Stormers in Christchurch was a particular worry, because it appeared to produce a blueprint for success - and it was an ugly one.

Although the collisions were intense and the game intriguing in its own way, Israel Dagg, one of the world's most naturally gifted players, spent most of the night under instruction to kick the ball deep to opposite Joe Pietersen.

The Crusaders won that game but there was a price to pay. Only sporadically did they find fluidity in attack for the rest of the competition, and Dagg suffered his worst Super season to date. Eventually the Stormers also fell at the same semi-final hurdle, victims of their own lack of creativity.

Some might see a lesson in all of this for the Australian sides, particularly the Waratahs, but it's also a licence: a mandate to build a style that shows the players in the best light and provides a platform for their athletic ability, not a ceiling. Above all it is in their naked self-interest. If you want to win, you must also entertain.

Rugby Internationals 2014

Round 1
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 18 vs TGA 18 Report Stats
FJI 25 vs ITA 14 Report Stats
NZL 20 vs ENG 15 Report Stats
AUS 50 vs FRA 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 47 vs WXV 13 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 29 Report Stats
USA 6 vs SCO 24 Report Stats
CAN 25 vs JPN 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 15 vs ITA Report Stats
FJI 45 vs TGA 17 Report Stats
NZL 28 vs ENG 27 Report Stats
AUS 6 vs FRA Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 38 vs WAL 16 Report Stats
CAN 17 vs SCO 19 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 23 Report Stats
USA 29 vs JPN 37 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
ARG 19 vs SCO 21 Report Stats
FJI 13 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
JPN 26 vs ITA 23 Report Stats
AUS 39 vs FRA 13 Stats
NZL 36 vs ENG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 31 vs WAL 30 Report Stats
USA 38 vs CAN 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 55 vs SCO 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
BAR 36 vs AUS 40 Report Stats
USA 6 vs NZL 74 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 24 vs SAM 13 Report Stats
ENG 21 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
WAL 28 vs AUS 33 Report Stats
FRA 40 vs FJI 14 Report Stats
IRE 29 vs RSA 15 Report Stats
SCO 41 vs ARG 31 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Sun, 16 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 18 vs ARG 20 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs RSA 31 Report Stats
WAL 17 vs FJI 13 Report Stats
SCO 16 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
FRA 29 vs AUS 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 NovTimes shown AEDT
IRE 49 vs GEO 7 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Sun, 23 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 6 vs RSA 22 Report Stats
SCO 37 vs TGA 12 Report Stats
IRE 26 vs AUS 23 Report Stats
WAL 16 vs NZL 34 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs SAM 9 Report Stats
FRA 13 vs ARG 18 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Sun, 30 NovTimes shown AEDT
ENG 26 vs AUS 17 Report Stats
WAL 12 vs RSA 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
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