Chiefs romp to first Super Rugby title
The Chiefs have won the Super Rugby trophy for the first time in 17 years of professional rugby, hammering the travel-weary Sharks 37-6 in tonight's final in Hamilton.
In front of a raucous 25,100 crowd that braved pouring rain in the first half, the home side proved too strong after absorbing a powerful opening by the South Africans in the first quarter at Waikato Stadium.
It is the first time in four years that a New Zealand team has won the title, the Crusaders the last Kiwi champions in 2008.
It is a remarkable feat by Dave Rennie and his coaching team in their first year in charge of the Chiefs and with a number of rookie players in their squad.
The Chiefs headed down the tunnel for halftime with a 13-3 advantage that was built from a swing in momentum midway through the opening spell.
It was the Sharks early on who brought the intensity, the heat from their defence outstanding, and their kicking game was also a notch or two above that of the home side.
But all they had to show for it was a solitary penalty goal by first five-eighth Frederic Michalak and gradually the Chiefs worked their way back into the game.
While once again the Chiefs were intent on keeping ball in hand and often running it out of their 22, it was the use of the high bomb out of those defensive situations in the steady rain that finally cracked open the South Africans.
First it was a beautifully weighted aerial chip by Aaron Cruden that standout centre Andrew Horrell ran onto, the previously contained Sonny Bill Williams got up a head of steam when the ball was moved wide and then from the resulting ruck the ball was moved wide left through the hands of Horrell to the dancing Tim Nanai-Williams.
The diminutive winger had players with him but he didn't need them as he barrelled through and under the defence, sliding over in the multiple tackles to score.
Cruden followed with the wide-angled conversion and two big penalty goals as the Chiefs' bombs were fumbled by the Sharks while the home side made the travel-weary visitors make a huge number of tackles.
With the rain disappearing during the break, the Chiefs fired straight back onto attack at the start of the second half, forced a 5m scrum with good pressure on a Sharks loosehead and No8 Kane Thompson scored his first try of the season, Cruden converting to make it 20-3.
Chiefs tighthead prop Ben Tameifuna was lucky to get away with a crunching high tackle on impressive Sharks No8 Ryan Kankowski, but Kankowski showed no ill effects and played on.
The Chiefs continued to pin the Sharks back in their own half with some outstanding defensive intensity and their ever present attack intent.
The Sharks continued to make mistakes in the face of the Chiefs' relentless pressure and the reward for the home side was a fourth try, this time to Sonny Bill Williams, with Cruden's boot making the final scoreline 37-6.
Chiefs 37 (Tim Nanai-Williams, Kane Thompson, Lelia Masaga, Sonny Bill Williams tries; Aaron Cruden 4 conversions, 3 penalty goals)
Sharks 6 (Frederic Michalak 2 penalty goals).
Halftime: 13-3 Chiefs.