Slick Chiefs Super Rugby’s new benchmark

The Chiefs set new standards as New Zealand’s dominant Super Rugby sides delivered a reality check to Australia’s title hopefuls with a round-six scoring blitz.

A fortnight after assuming competition favouritism, the Brumbies proved fodder for the Chiefs, whose record-setting 48-23 rout in Canberra on Saturday night completed a clean sweep of wins for New Zealand’s four sides in weekend action.

The defending champion Highlanders dispatched the Western Force 32-20 in Perth, the Crusaders downed the Lions 43-37 in Johannesburg and the Blues beat the Jaguares 24-16 in Auckland.

All up, Kiwi outfits piled on 18 tries and 145 points to send an ominous warning to their Australian, South African, Argentine and Japanese rivals.

But it’s the table-topping Chiefs setting the competition alight.

Led by livewire fullback Damian McKenzie, the tournament’s leading try-scorer and point-scorer, the Chiefs handed the Brumbies their worst-ever home defeat to enhance their status as Super Rugby’s road warriors.

Despite playing just one home game in a gruelling start to the season, the 2013 champions have chalked up five wins from six starts, including 50-point romps in Perth and Port Elizabeth before almost notching another half-century triumph in Australia’s national capital, once a fortress for the Brumbies.

Coach Dave Rennie credits the Chiefs’ improved fitness for his side’s hot start to the season.

“Our support play and our ability to keep the ball alive has been massive and a lot of that comes down to our conditioning as well,” Rennie said.

“I think Phil Heatley, our trainer, and his team have done an amazing job.

“We are a very fit side. We have been pretty clinical in those last parts to storm home. We’re really happy with the attitude and the work ethic.”

Alarmingly, Australian sides have failed to win any of their past seven clashes against New Zealand opposition, tallying six losses and a draw since the Brumbies’ crushing round-one 52-10 home victory over the Hurricanes.

There could be more pain to come, too, with the struggling Force hosting the Crusaders next week and the winless Queensland Reds home to the Highlanders.

The Brumbies have a round-seven bye to regroup before taking on the NSW Waratahs – who also have next weekend off – in a huge conference derby in Sydney on April 16.

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham will be sweating on David Pocock being available after the star flanker was cited by SANZAAR for an alleged neck grab on Chiefs No.8 Michael Lietch at GIO Stadium.

The Brumbies’ second successive loss opened the door for the Melbourne Rebels to join the ACT franchise atop the Australian conference with a surprise 21-17 win over the NSW Waratahs in the final match of the round on Sunday afternoon at Allianz Stadium.

The Rebels’ victory was their first-ever in Sydney.

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