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Preconceptions Shattered By Super Finalists

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Preconceptions Shattered By Super Finalists

By Daniel Gilhooly of NZPA

Wellington, May 30 NZPA - Mils Muliaina reckons unpredictability could be a key weapon for the Chiefs team he leads into tomorrow morning's (NZT) Super 14 rugby final in Pretoria -- although he reckons the Bulls could say the same thing.

Tipped by some to be unveiled as captain when the All Blacks squad is named tomorrow, fullback Muliaina has a major challenge on his plate 12 hours earlier as his underdog team venture to fortress Loftus Versfeld to fight for their first Super rugby title.

He is buoyed by their form of the last three weeks -- admittedly at home -- in which they have dug a trench for themselves and fought out narrow wins, scoring just 40 points in the process.

It has silenced those who believed the Chiefs had a glass jaw when teams knuckled down against them and restricted the influence and scoring of their exciting backline.

"I think the way we played early in the tournament was pretty expansive, then for the last three weeks or so we've shown a different side to ourselves in grinding out wins," Muliaina told journalists.

"So I think there's a flawed perception of us. We're able to adapt our style to the match situation."

The veteran All Black also believed the Bulls were misunderstood. He couldn't comprehend criticism of them for employing a long-kicking game and often reverting to the dropped goals and penalties of first five-eighth Morne Steyn for their points.

"I'm from the school of thought that you play to your strengths and don't stray too far from that," Muliaina said.

"I hear the term expansive and conservative rugby being thrown about, but if you play away from your strengths you're pretty certain to lose. If you play to those, you stand a much better chance of getting a positive result. It's simple, you either play winning or losing rugby."

Muliaina's comments suggest the final may not be the open affair that many are predicting and which has always been the pattern between the sides at Pretoria.

In all six matches at the famous venue, neither team has scored fewer than 26 points.

The teams scored three tries each when the Bulls won 33-27 a month ago, following three successive three-point wins by the hosts dating back to 2003.

Steyn kicked 18 points in their last meeting, emphasising the importance for the Chiefs of staying in the good books of the all-South African officiating team headed by referee Jonathan Kaplan tomorrow.

It will start in the tight five where Chiefs props Sona Taumalolo and James McGougan -- both in their first Super rugby seasons -- must set a platform for their more glamorous teammates to work off.

Coach Ian Foster has conducted a low-key buildup, asking his players to be mentally ready and reflect on the sort of rugby that has carried them to a first-ever final.

"We haven't made the final by changing our style," he said.

"We achieved that by belief in how we play and we won't lose that belief now. Clearly we've had to grow and get better in other areas other than our ball-in-hand attack, and I think we've made some really big steps there, particularly in the last three or four weeks.

"But we've come to this final to play. It's what we do best and in a final we have to put our best foot forward."

Foster believed the teams -- who were both paying $12 by the TAB to win the competition before it kicked off -- were evenly matched in most areas.

What gave the Bulls deserved favouritism was home advantage and the fact that most of their players had already contested a final -- when they lifted the 2007 crown.

"I can certainly see from the outside why people think that's a huge advantage," Foster said.

"There's certainly a lot to be said about having been there, done that. They're a great team. You don't finish top of the table if you're not, and a big reason they're there is the experience of their players.

"We're pretty inexperienced, particularly up front, but our guys are very excited about this challenge and sometimes excitement and adrenalin can overcome inexperience."

The final has been overshadowed to a degree by the impending start of the hyped British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa.

Nothing would be sweeter for a Chiefs side who have won hearts with their mixture of panache and grit this season than stealing the headlines and making Super rugby history in the process.


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