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Chiefs on collision course

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Sportal.co.nz     24 Jul 2013     Getty Images

Roughed up then punished with five tries, Dave Rennie's men left AMI Stadium a little shaken by the experience but it was their pride that suffered most.

Not since May have the defending champions displayed the urgency and precision that has become a trademark of the Waikato franchise.

Fate has pitted them against the Crusaders in a semi-final just three weeks after their humbling trip to the garden city and Rennie is urgently trying to awaken the mongrel in his pack before it's too late.

"If you don't bring the same sort of intensity [as the Crusaders] you're going to be under a bit of pressure and we didn't have that with or without the ball," said Rennie.

"Any repeat of that and the season is over so I'm pretty confident you won't see any of that."

Rennie kept spectators guessing by constantly altering his lineup at training on Tuesday. Gareth Anscombe may be a surprise inclusion at fullback, at the expense of Robbie Robinson, but his best eight forwards are likely to be the same ones that ran onto Eden Parks two weeks ago.

Props Ben Afeaki and Tameifuna have complained of back pain but should be available for Saturday's knockout match at Waikato Stadium, where over 15,000 tickets have already been snapped up.

Lock Brodie Retallick hasn't been far from an ice pack since injuring his ankle against the Blues but he has been hitting the tackle bags a little harder after watching the Crusaders outmuscle the Reds in last week's qualifying final.

It was an impressive performance by a Crusaders pack which boasted 184 All Black caps and a guy named Richie McCaw on the bench.

They ripped through 11 turnovers at the breakdown and laid a concrete platform for Dan Carter and co to pick the Reds apart piece by piece.

"I guess that set the benchmark of where we need to be and how they're going to play," Retallick said.

"We need to be dominant up front so our backs can play and we're pretty confident that we can get the job done and do a job on them."

That is easier said than done but the Chiefs know exactly what is required to defeat the seven-time champions having built a fierce rivalry between them that is set to continue for years to come.

Last year's three-point loss in the semi-final is still a painful subject in red-and-black country but it's a more recent result that they will want to avenge.

In round 15 the Crusaders left Hamilton with the bitter taste of defeat for the second time in a row after Aaron Cruden masterminded one of the finest tactical performances by a Chiefs side.

It was coupled with a sublime defensive effort that saw the usually lethal Crusaders held inches short of the line on numerous occasions.

Slip-ups against the Force and Sharks aside, the only time the Crusaders banner has fallen is when they were unable to meet the physical challenge and win the battle of the breakdown.

The Waratahs used unrelenting force in the trenches and would have won if Berrick Barnes slotted a penalty at the final siren.

"When we've had success against them in the past it's because that area [the breakdown] has been really strong and it's no secret that that's where we've got to be strong," said Chiefs captain Craig Clarke.

It's a simple formula but one that the Chiefs have strayed from in recent weeks. Forwards coach Tom Coventry has reminded the squad they 'got their arses handed to them' in an attempt to spark the aggression needed.

Rennie admitted the slump in form had come down to attitude but felt confident they had rectified the issue.

Asked whether his side would front Rennie replied: "Yeah, we'll be ready."