Opinion: Chiefs' and Canes' late dramatics highlight Aussie weakness

Patrick McKendry
Source: 1News

A week after the Blues humiliated the Rebels at Eden Park, the Chiefs and Hurricanes probably provided an ever better illustration of New Zealand rugby’s superior quality when stealing wins in the final moments against their Australian rivals across the ditch.

Chiefs replacement prop Ollie Norris dives over for the match-winning try in the final seconds against the Rebels in Melbourne.

I say quality, but I’m referring to one aspect in particular – mental strength and general self belief, because the Waratahs matched the Hurricanes physically in Sydney in building a comfortable 15-0 halftime lead only to fritter it away in the second half, and the Rebels, well, they are unlikely to get a better chance to beat a Kiwi team this year.

The Chiefs were poor and yet still won; and that's the stark difference between the nations. The Brumbies and Waratahs have had their successes this season against their Kiwi rivals, but have had to play extremely well to do so. Unfortunately for them, the reverse doesn't apply.

The Waratahs had the Hurricanes where they wanted them – pinned down and virtually sewn up, but once prop Tevita Mafileo scored his converted try two minutes after the break, the home side’s self belief floated away into the night sky.

It often doesn’t take much for momentum to change but Mafileo’s try from close range was crucial and, let's be honest, expected. The scoreboard pressure on the Hurricanes eased and the Waratahs began waiting for what for them may have seemed inevitable.

That Ardie Savea put the Hurricanes in the lead for the first time in the 75th minute with a converted try seconds after he was lying on the pitch apparently injured appeared to sum it up; it’s difficult to keep the Kiwi teams down, even when they’re not playing particularly well.

That the Hurricanes won 22-18 against a Waratahs side who have beaten the Crusaders this season was down to their superior mentality.

As for the Chiefs in Melbourne, it’s harder to know where to start.

READ MORE: Ollie Norris an unlikely hero as Chiefs steal dramatic win from Rebels

Clayton McMillan’s men were playing for a place in the top four and yet often played with the energy and accuracy of a team scratching around on the bottom of the table.

It was a strangely flat performance against a side which shipped 70 points to the Blues the week before and perhaps that was the crux of the matter.

The Chiefs would have arrived at Aami Park expecting nothing less than a bonus point victory but came up against a team that had greater enthusiasm on defence, and, although they were nowhere near at the same level in terms of using space on attack, the Rebels took their chances well in front of a home crowd that became increasingly vocal in the afternoon sun.

READ MORE: Rieko Ioane injury the only downer for Blues as they eye finals

There was an intercept try, a kick through and score from a loose Josh Ioane pass, and a try from Rebels fullback Reece Hodge which perhaps summed up the Chiefs’ performance best. Hodge, who had a mixed game, was as surprised as anyone after running on to a hopeful high punt from Carter Gordon and discovering that the opposition defence wasn’t within touching distance.

And yet, did they really believe that at 30-26 ahead with three minutes left after Hodge’s penalty and with Chiefs loose forward Luke Jacobson in the sinbin after a high tackle that they could hold on?

Hurricanes skipper Ardie Savea goes over for his team's match-winning try against the Waratahs in Sydney.

If anything, the Rebels looked the more desperate, and still the Chiefs provided a lifeline. There was a botched Chiefs lineout on attack after a penalty which gave possession back, but once they somehow got it back and began launching their series of attacks in search of the try which would win them the game, the Rebels broke quickly and easily.

Replacement prop Ollie Norris had never scored in a Super Rugby game before this weekend. That he received the ball, straightened the attack and crashed through several would-be tacklers was a testament to his instincts and a typical Kiwi team’s mindset.

The Chiefs were way off their game but knew they were the better team and just needed an opportunity. The Rebels, on the other hand, were holding on in hope for the final whistle.

The losses will hurt the Waratahs and Rebels more than most because they were good enough physically to win but lacked that most intangible of qualities; a winner's mentality.

Even the Brumbies, Australia's best, were broken in the first half by the Crusaders' onslaught, the red and blacks winning 37-26 in a performance of cold intensity.

The Aussies are getting closer, but even in pushing two Kiwi teams close this past weekend they revealed something of themselves they would much rather stay hidden - an inferiority complex.