There were many options to choose from: the Brumbies excelling at set piece, defence, kicking, ball handling and game management.
But, speaking exclusively to The Roar yesterday, McKellar was in no doubt: “The thing about playing the New Zealand sides, is you know you have to win the physical contact. We did that, and at the end, that domination helped us control the match.”
It wasn’t all one-way, a storming try to Pita-Gus Sowakula bringing the Chiefs back to within seven points, but as McKellar noted, “There are always going to be periods where the opposition gets a run of possession or put some points on. But what I really liked was how our leaders stayed calm and composed, the messaging was clear, and we never went away from our game plan or dropped off in our physicality.”
Given that emphasis, the conversation naturally gravitated to the performance of Rob Valetini; “Yeah, his physicality offers us a key point of difference. But it’s also his high work rate, he’s really turning into a world class player,” McKellar said.
Over the years the Brumbies have produced many outstanding loose forwards: David Pocock, George Smith and Owen Finegan among the names that roll easily off the tongue. But it’s hard to imagine a loose forward combination that complements each other as well as this current one does.
“Pete Samu brings the skill set of a centre, and Jahrome Brown is as tough as nails, so yes, it’s a luxury to have those three guys operating together,” McKellar agreed. “The three of them are good mates, they spend a lot of time together and that’s really showing in the work they do off the field and on the pitch.”
But even with a top-two spot and home finals action beckoning, McKellar isn’t getting ahead of things. “We’ve got three tough matches left, against some very good sides, and we need to keep bringing that same level of intensity and physicality, or we’ll be found out,” he concluded.
For their part, the Chiefs had few answers to a well-thought-out kicking game from Nic White and Ryan Lonergan that pinned them to the sidelines, and on a greasy night, they lacked the ball handling efficiency and clinical control of the Brumbies.
They remain favored for a home quarter-final, but have some work to do – and will need Brodie Retallick back, and firing – if they are to trouble the current top three.
In normal circumstances, had the Rebels been offered 28 points against the Blues at Eden Park, they would gladly have taken it. But this was no normal occasion. Once the Blues realised there was a game on, they piled on a lazy 71 points, including 11 tries, rendering the Rebels’ four insignificant tries.