Every now and again, as much as you’re hoping for a different result, you are left to simply marvel at the quality of the opposition on show.
That was my lot on Saturday night, when several of the Chiefs’ tries left me struggling for words even remotely adequate to what I’d just seen play out in front of me.
“I mean, I said it before, but all you can do is laugh,” former Brumbies and Wallabies centre, now ABC Grandstand co-commentator, Pat McCabe, offered after Brad Webber scored his amazing runaway try in the 66th minute to put the game beyond doubt.
The play originated from a James Lowe chip kick that I’m quite sure was going to be a full-blooded exit kick when he started the backswing, only to abort when he saw the Brumbies defenders standing off him.
“That’s extraordinary,” I added from the sideline; the kind of insight people should pay good money to hear.
“Just incredible,” Pat continued, before eventually managing to find the right words, particularly praising the way the Chiefs’ coaches back the skill of the players.
Normally, the idea of radio broadcasting is to put into words what the audience can’t see. Or on the occasion of a live sporting event, there’s a chance your words are adding to, or confirming what the live audience has seen themselves. Either way, you’re supposed to paint the picture with words.
But this was one of those occasions where we couldn’t immediately put what we’d just seen into words. For the medium we were operating in, it wasn’t ideal at all. Yet our struggle to find the right words in that instant might just have perfectly described the absurdly brilliant skill on show. And for me, that show was playing five metres away.
Coming into the game with the Brumbies, it was billed as the trans-Tasman conference leaders against each other, and by extension, the perfect opportunity to compare and make the appropriate judgements.
The Chiefs had players leading the all the major attacking measures: points, tries, goals kicked, carries, metres made, defenders beaten, offloads. If it wasn’t Damien McKenzie, it was Charlie Ngatai, and with Lowe not too far behind.
They’d scored 28 tries from five starts, and eighty minutes later had blown it out further to 34 tries in six games.
In 2015, the competition average was just over five tries scored in every game, and in 2016, this is already up to 5.6 tries per game after six rounds of 2016. The Chiefs already are scoring 5.7 tries per game themselves.
But it’s much more than just attack. The Chiefs boast the best lineout success rate in the competition, and they rank fifth for scrum success. This is despite an injury toll pushing a dozen, with seven of them forwards. The Chiefs’ manager told me on Saturday night locks Brodie Retallick and Dom Bird are a chance to return this week.
Despite this, the Chiefs made such short work of the Brumbies on Saturday night that I could only sit back in wonder.
And the wondering continued over the weekend. So much so, that I checked the draw. And even though the competition still has the best part of four months to run, I reached a stunning conclusion.
I don’t think the Chiefs will lose another game this season.
For one thing, they’ve completed the ‘touring’ part of their season already, and in the best possible fashion. Wins in South Africa, Argentina, and now Australia has them very well placed atop the competition log, and wins earned away from home tend to become more valuable as seasons progress.
The Chiefs now have five of their seven 2016 home games to come, with four of them and both byes coming in the next seven weeks.
Even if you want to make the argument that the New Zealand intra-conference games will be tougher than any of the ‘international’ fixtures the Chiefs have encountered thus far, the travel involved still can’t be underestimated. As I wrote last week, the Chiefs over the previous month had conservatively covered more than 33,000 kilometres, and had spent anywhere up to 80 hours in the air – and that was before the Hamilton-Auckland-Sydney-Canberra-Sydney-Auckland-Hamilton round trip just gone.
But this early-season lap of the southern hemisphere might, in turn, be recognised as the making of this young Chiefs side. With so many players out injured, a month away has quite possibly accelerated the natural ‘gelling’ process of a playing group. Eight of the 23 players in Canberra have debuted for the Chiefs in 2016, and six of them were playing only their second or third game. And despite all this, there’s currently no better all-round team from 1 to 23 in the competition.
Being able to get away for a month with a young group has given the Chiefs the great benefit of team bonding, almost forcing them into social interactions, and generally enjoying each other’s company without the distractions of being at home. The result is right there in front of us; three wins on the trot outside New Zealand this year (the streak is actually four, including a win in Brisbane late last season).
From here, the Chiefs’ run to the June international window reads like this: Blues, bye, Hurricanes away in Wellington, Sharks at ‘home’ in New Plymouth, Highlanders, their second bye (four weeks after the first), Rebels, and the Waratahs in Sydney.
After the June Tests, their run to the playoffs includes their historic ‘home’ game in Fiji against the Crusaders, the Reds in Brisbane, and the Highlanders in Dunedin in the final round.
On their current form, there’s no reason why they can’t win all nine games to come. They won’t be troubled by the remaining Australian sides at all and the um, ‘flaky’ Sharks at the mid-point of a five-week tour should similarly flounder at the hands of the ‘Chefs’.
The local derbies will present the only danger games that I can see, and even then I think we’re really only talking about the Crusaders in Suva, and the Highlanders down in the glasshouse the week before the finals. They will be enthralling clashes, no doubt, but you suspect both the Crusaders and Highlanders would have to play their best games of the season to win.
Right at this point, then, I see no reason to tip against the Chiefs for the rest of the season. I wouldn’t quite go as far as suggesting the engraver can get an early start on the trophy, but they’re sure going to take some topping from here.