Can you believe that the final game of Super Rugby 2013 is already upon us? With the introduction of the Kings, the resurgent form of the Brumbies and Waratahs, the Lions invasion and the typical surprises and upsets of Super Rugby, this season has absolutely flown by.
This weekend we will see a Grand Final clash between two teams who represent two very different philosophical approaches to the game of rugby. The Chiefs play some of the most fluid rugby seen since the early 2000’s Auckland Blues side, which featured players such as Carlos Spencer and Joe Rockoko, terrorising Super 12. The Brumbies, on the other hand, play the nearly mechanical and incredibly efficient style of rugby which Jake White has come to be known for. Even with the burden of travel placed upon them I believe this Brumbies squad will put up a much stronger fight than the Sharks did last year, and could even win it all.
Clean breaks and offloads: Brumbies must stem the tide
Breaking the line using clever offloads and intelligent, hard running lines has become a trademark of this Chiefs side under Dave Rennie. It is a strategy which has clearly been working well for the Chiefs, who hold the top spots in the competition for both clean breaks (153) and offloads (208).
They’ve also done this without giving away too much free ball, averaging only 17 turnovers conceded a match to the Brumbies’ 15. Key to this will also be the ability of the Brumbies to do this without being whistled off of the park. They average 10.9 penalties a match (highest in competition) and were penalised 11 times last week.
The Brumbies will need to stick with their swarming ruck defense and make the most of every opportunity to tackle both the man and the ball. If these offloading options can be stopped the Chiefs attack will slowly grind to a halt. Their back line lacks a true battering ram with Richard Kahui out with injury so getting back onto the front foot off slow ball has proven difficult for them this season.
Tevita Kuridrani’s performance will be absolutely pivotal to the success of the Brumbies in this match. What the Chiefs backs lack in size (although Charlie Ngatai does have a bit of width to him) they more than make up for with blistering pace and footballing smarts. Andrew Horell, Charlie Ngatai and Bundee Aki all have a devastating sidestep and can slice up the 12-13 or 13-15 channel in a heartbeat.
Gareth Anscombe and Lelia Masaga also have a knack for popping up in these wider channels to great effect. Every one of these players sits just around one, or more line breaks every 80 minutes. A lot will be riding on Kuridrani’s ability to shut down their access to these wider channels, as well as his ability to impose himself as the largest back on the field.
Brumbies must chase set piece ascendancy
It is no secret that the Chiefs have the most dysfunctional line out in the entire competition at the moment, winning just 78.4 per cent of their own throws. Much has been said about it being the result of Hika Elliot carrying an injury but after watching them lose five lineouts last weekend I can say that the entire operation was a bit of a mess. The jumpers timing was off on a few occasion and the lifters seemed a bit lost at times. Combine this with a hooker that isn’t throwing well and you have a recipe for disaster.
It is very difficult to win a Grand Final when you are conceding ball at the set piece. Although this Chiefs team have become masters at winning without the ball, averaging only 13 minutes, 54 seconds of possession a match [Opta Sports]. The Brumbies average 15 minutes, 41 seconds of possession each match. By denying the Chiefs as much possession as possible the Brumbies can take the fleet feet of their backs out of the equation entirely.
While the Brumbies have not been as miserly as the Crusaders or Bulls in terms of shutting down opposition ball at the line out they do sit above the competition average, only allowing the opposition to take their own ball on 83 per cent of occasions. I expect the Brumbies to use the rolling maul early on to test the Chiefs pack but I do not expect the opposite after last week.
The Chiefs, while as likely to maul as any NZ team are only about half as likely to maul as the Brumbies and about a quarter as likely to maul as your average South African team. After watching Scott Fardy cut through Blue Bulls mauls like they were butter last week I would not expect the Chiefs to employ this strategy to any effect.
The scrum is another area which the Brumbies will look to target, although the Chiefs are closer to parity in this department. Ben Alexander must establish himself against Toby Smith from the first scrum of the match. This is by far the largest point of difference between the two scrums and if Moore can protect Alexander he should be able to perform.
Scott Sio will need to work very hard to contain big Ben Tameifuna in what could end up being a match-up we may see at Test level over the coming years. Tameifuna is a gifted scrummager and the clash between him and Sio should be titanic.
The kicking yips must be left in Canberra
With Gareth Anscombe back in the line up the Chiefs have effectively countered what could have been a big edge to the Brumbies – their goal kicking. Christian Leali’ifano sits at 77 per cent with Aaron Cruden at 70 per cent, Anscombe reigns over them both at 80 per cent [RuckinGood Stats]. This could easily be how the match is decided.
While the Chiefs did show some flair last weekend the reason they were able to beat the Crusaders was a monstrous defensive effort (165 tackles made, 18 missed). They won that match in spite of their attacking stats, which were far from impressive. This, combined with the Brumbies penchance for conceding penalties, could see Anscombe’s goal kicking ability become the key decider in this match. Leali’ifano definitely cannot afford to have a kicking performance like he did against the Cheetahs.
The territorial kicking game and the efficiency of the Brumbies chase line will also be a key to the match. If the Brumbies are able to execute on game day they could very well frustrate the Chiefs badly by smothering them in their own half and restricting the space they have to operate in. If the Brumbies kick-chase begins to wane at any point in the match the Chiefs will punish them.Players will need to work especially hard to ensure that even the second or third chase line is as set and spaced as the first one.