Chiefs to be tested by Blues in 'Battle of the Bombays'

Jake Gordon from the Waratahs runs to score a try during the Super Rugby rugby match between the Waratahs and the Chiefs in Sydney, Australia, Friday, March 24, 2023. (David Gray/AAP Image via AP)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Hamilton-based Chiefs will face the toughest test to their unbeaten start to the Super Rugby Pacific season since it began with an upset over the Crusaders when they take on the Auckland-based Blues on Saturday in a sixth-round match.

After their shock first-round win over the defending champions, the Chiefs have padded their 5-0 record with wins over lowly-ranked teams. They now face the fourth-placed Blues, who have a 3-2 record and a large contingent of All Blacks but are playing below the level that such squad strength should guarantee.

The Chiefs enter Saturday’s home match on the back of an uninspiring win over the New South Wales Waratahs, while the Blue had an equally unimpressive win over the Perth-based Western Force in a match in which most of their All Blacks were rested.

The Chiefs have a break next week and will follow that with testing matches against the Wellington-based Hurricanes and Fijian Drua before they face the Christchurch-based Crusaders for a second time. The Blues will face the Melbourne Rebels, Drua and Moana Pasifika before they again play the Crusaders, to whom they lost 34-28 in Round 4.

The next few rounds likely will have a major role in shaping the top four.

The Blues’ season would benefit a great deal from a win over the Chiefs, at least from a sustained performance. Again this season, they have a tendency to fade late in matches.

While the Blues beat the Force comfortably and did so without most of their international stars, it was performance they likely would want to move on from.

“We’ll turn this round quickly,” head coach Leon MacDonald said. “We’re going to have about 13 new players turning up Monday pretty fresh after a break and pretty excited about the week ahead.”

MacDonald said the Blues players are looking forward to taking on the Chiefs on the home ground.

“We love that challenge,” he said. “It’s definitely one of the games the guys get up for. Hamilton is a place we like to go and win at. It’s one of the better feelings in rugby.

“We know we can play a game that can beat them if we’re on. We’re backing ourselves to go there and get the job done.”

Coach Cameron McMillan acknowledged the Chiefs’ win over the Waratahs was far from perfect but said often it is better to win ugly than “lose pretty.”

“Our ball-carrying height was pretty poor,” McMillan said. “We carried high. We allowed them to get two people in the tackle. It was slow. We weren’t getting to ground on our terms.

“Everyone has games like that. You scrap to the end and you wish you had played a lot better. But that’s the beauty of our game – there are always things to work on.”

The Blues and Chiefs are neighbors, separated by the Bombay Hills which divide Auckland from Waikato province. That adds intensity to their matches.

“The Blues are a team that we always love playing,” McMillan said. “It’s the Battle of the Bombays. We only get them once this year in round-robin play, so that adds to the motivation.”

The Canberra-based Brumbies lost their unbeaten record last weekend after fielding an understrength lineup against the Crusaders. They resume against the Waratahs in what usually is one of the high points of the season in Australia. Although not so much this year because the Waratahs are not playing well.

Brumbies chairman Matt Nobbs is so confident, he has promised to buy a beer for every visiting fan if the Sydney-based Waratahs win in the national capital.

“If they’re good enough to beat us, I’ll meet everyone in the bar ... and shout them all a beer,” Nobbs said.


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