This feels unusual. The Chiefs’ normal role in the scheme of things is starting slow, get our act together mid-way through, knock over the NZ teams heading for the play-offs, then have a bitter, nothing in it, game with the Hurricanes. Which we usually lose.
Which is why the sight of our guys dancing around the Waikato Stadium turf in triumph is a bit of a shock. The 2012 Chiefs had a new coach, lots of new faces and supposedly lacked horse power in the pack, who’d struggle to get ball to the backline, who were full of good looking razzle dazzle, but unproven as a combination.
|The office-worker-rugby-guy’s version of a MySpace self portrait
Turns out that was all bollocks. Rennie, Wayne Smith and Tom Coventry have created:
a) a forward pack that smashed the fearsome Crusaders in Napier early on, and turned over most everyone that came their way since (except for the *ahem* Crusaders in the last but one round)
b) a backline that survived Kahui’s season ending injury, with the new guys performing just as capably as the super stars, and super stars Williams and Cruden reaching new levels of, ah, super stardom, and
c) a team culture that from the outside (and on the Twitter) seems like family. Watch the team song, and AWESOME haka – it’s more feel good than Winnie The Pooh meeting ET
The Chiefs were consistent (pretty much) all season. Bouncing back from the thrashing by the Reds away was significant to me. They’d been flying high until then, and that was the point where the Chiefs of old’s wheels would have fallen off – but they didn’t, surviving even some late-season wobbles against the Crusaders and Hurricanes to secure the home finals spot. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a rugby match less than the one versus the Crusaders. They’re the Jason Voorhees of semi-final rugby – no matter how many times you chop their head off and throw them in the lake, they’re likely to be back two minutes later to jump out of a wardrobe armed with a meat cleaver.
But the Chiefs hung on, and rode their luck to get the home final. Despite some good work in the first half, the frequent-flyer Sharks had no answer to the Chiefs’ pack, and the backs did enough in the slippery conditions to take their first trophy, and becoming the third NZ team to win the title (I’m magnanimously not inserting a big Hurricanes-troll at this point).
Rennie has done OK for his first season to say the least. Even though we’re saying goodbye to some key players, the team is more youthful than McDonalds counter staff for the most part. Retallick, Tameifuna, Kerr-Barlow and Cane (who’s seemingly played more for the All Blacks than the Chiefs) are all at the very start of their careers, while Cruden, who seems to have been around forever, is actually only just old enough to shave. There’s no doubt we’ll miss Sonny Bill, both for his distracting presence on the field and the bums he puts on seats. It’d be great if he’s genuine about wanting to come back.
It’s a good time to be from the Waikato. I made it to two matches this year – the basketball-on-grass match versus the Blues at Albany, and the late competition match versus the Crusaders. Waikato Stadium is a pit of facepaint, flags, Waikato Draught gear and cowbells – hard to take if you support the opposition, but magic if you’re from round our way. The stadium is the right size to sell out regularly, and is just bloody LOUD – it’s a huge advantage to us, and it looked like a Hamilton-as-Rio cow cocky carnival last night.
And so, just after our netballers won NZ’s first transtasman netball trophy, the Chiefs are on top of super rugby for the first time. The only way it could have been any sweeter would have meant Stephen Donald somehow kicking the final points, but *cough* this’ll do. I hope it’s the first of a few more.