OPINION: Old-fashioned hard, confrontational work.
It was a recurring theme whenever you talked to any of the Chiefs forwards early in their Super Rugby campaign.
Under the guidance of assistant coach Tom Coventry, the forwards got well versed in live scrums, sapping maul work and rough and accurate breakdown practice.
It was the toughest training work most of the Chiefs squad had ever put in, captain Craig Clarke said.
When they were finished with that it was not unusual for them to spend hours working on their defensive patterns, understanding where they were weak and vulnerable and finding solutions so their line wasn't breached.
While many who will look back at the Chiefs' championship run of 2012 will remember the dynamic work of that inside back combination of Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams, the platform for the franchise's ultimate success probably came from their defence.
It was the best in the competition for two-thirds of the long schedule, only breaking down late in the round robin when they lost to the Reds, Crusaders and Hurricanes.
When they regrouped for the playoffs, it was obvious that defensive line was back on song.
It was evident again on Saturday night when the Sharks failed to cross their line and were repeatedly battered back when they tried.
Sure, a lot of people will point to the Sharks' travel schedule, when they were asked to do almost the impossible, but they put themselves in that position because their round-robin work was below where it needed to be to secure home playoff rights.
The work the Chiefs put in was rewarded with an advantage they earned.
Successful Chiefs coach Dave Rennie must now rank as contender No 1 to take over from All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
It's funny how quickly things can change.
A year ago just about everyone was calling for Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder to be elevated into some sort of national role when Graham Henry stepped aside.
Now, I think you would struggle to find anyone winning an argument that Blackadder is a better candidate than Rennie.
Harshly treated by Wellington, Rennie had the desire to get back into coaching, did a magnificent job with the New Zealand under-20 side before being equally impressive with Manawatu in last year's ITM Cup.
His ability, along with his assistants, to get massive improvement out of some players while managing one or two more high-profile charges, has been another highlight of the Chiefs' campaign.
I'm sure I was not the only one fearing for the Chiefs when they lost their two first-choice props in the opening game.
Step up Sona Taumalolo and Ben Tameifuna, the latter one of the finds of the season.
Their set-piece work was impressive but not half as much as what they do around the field, carrying the ball and defending with aggression as often as they could.
Cruden, for me, was the main reason the Chiefs won this title, but he was not my Chiefs player of the year.
That honour falls to rookie lock Brodie Retallick.
While it's hard to try to stop following the ball and watch just one individual, you should try with Retallick.
His work rate is simply stunning and amazingly accurate. What is more stunning is the kid has just turned 21.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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