Win ‘ugly and gutsy’ but did the job
Ugly and gutsy. Liam Messam reckons that summed up not only the Chiefs’ Super Rugby final victory on Saturday night but their whole season.
The Chiefs’ co-skipper and winner of the grand final Man of the Match Medal said team spirit, grit and determination were what got the Chiefs through a difficult year to achieve their goal of back-to-back trophies.
The Chiefs scored two tries (in the final quarter) to one intercept try in their 27-22 victory over the Canberra-based Brumbies at Waikato Stadium to seal their second title in as many seasons under Dave Rennie and his coaching team.
It completed a record 28-win, eight-loss twoyear period – two better than the previous record set by the Reds and Stormers in 2011-12.
On paper the two seasons look very similar for the Chiefs with both producing 12-4 round-robin records followed by semifinal and final victories, but even though the Chiefs this year collected a couple of extra bonus points and finished top of the table compared to second last year they never really completely hit their straps in game all season.
‘‘I think it was a little bit harder [this year],’’ Messam said.
‘‘We probably didn’t win the way maybe fans and other people wanted us to win.
‘‘Most of our wins were ugly and gutsy and even tonight was an ugly and gutsy win but we still came away with the W and we would have learnt a lot from this game and this season.
‘‘We’ve got a young group of men and hopefully we can continue that success for the next few years.’’
Messam also believes the experience of playing this season with the added pressure of being current champions would stand the Chiefs in good stead for having to do the same next year.
‘‘I think the key for us now if for all the boys who go into ITM Cup is to keep playing like Chiefs, keep that standard that they have and use those experiences in their [provincial] teams and then come back together in November/December and go from there,’’ he said.
Just like last year much was made of the disadvantage for the travelling team in having to fly from other countries and there was plenty of assumption that the Brumbies just ran out of steam in the final quarter because of their trip to South Africa for the semifinal against the Bulls in Pretoria and their return home to Australia before crossing the Tasman Sea to get to Hamilton late last week. Such travel will always be a factor. Waikato statistician Geoff Miller worked out that before the latest game the average winning margin for finals involving teams travelling to or from South Africa for a final was 26.8 points, for travelling between New Zealand and Australia it was 10.3 points and for finalists both remaining within the same country it was just 5.3 points.
But teams are smart now in how they handle travel between the three Sanzar countries involved in Super Rugby and Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie and Brumbies mentor Jake White both played down the travel factor on Saturday night. In some ways the real advantage is in the parochial home crowd support.
‘‘We talked in our group that if we had to travel from Africa back home we’d back ourselves to put in a big 80 minutes, knowing that you’ve got guys who can come off the bench and give you fresh legs,’’ Rennie said.
He believed the Chiefs’ second-half tactical adjustment is what got them home, buoyed by huge spirit.
‘‘I think the key was we needed to hang onto a bit of pill for a while and apply a bit of pressure and what we did for a while was keep moving the ball to where they had numbers when there was space behind the wingers and in front of the fullback.
‘‘We didn’t communicate that well enough so the intercept – we were talking about it in the coaches’ box – was always going to come because we put ourselves under a lot of pressure there.’’
Does Rennie believe back-to-back titles will now start to draw the outside respect the Chiefs deserve for their success? ‘‘I don’t even care to be honest. ‘‘ It’s more about what happens group. ‘‘We’re really satisfied. ‘‘It’s a tough tournament and you’ve got to be good and consistent for long periods and that gave us an opportunity to play at home tonight and that probably made a difference,’’ he said.
Back to back: The Chiefs perform a haka following on from their Super Rugby final victory on Saturday night against the Brumbies.