Chiefs already set for home playoff final
Even through Hamilton's thick winter fog the confident swagger was unmistakable. It may be three weeks away, but no sooner had the whistle gone on the Chiefs' sixth win in a row did the big screen at Waikato Stadium advertise tickets to a home quarterfinal.
One suspects the locals need no encouragement. Every one of them wants to enjoy this ride.
The defending champions' commanding march to the finals carried on its merry way with a bonus point 34-22 win over the Hurricanes on Friday night. The challenges of a month-long break for the June internationals were evident for 50 minutes.
During that time Dave Rennie's men lacked aggression at the breakdown and were caught napping by some Beauden Barrett brilliance. But the final 30 minutes again proved the Chiefs are masters of closing out matches.
Just one competition point from local clashes with the Crusaders in Christchurch, and Blues in Auckland, will be enough to secure the New Zealand conference title from here.
"It's a good reminder for us that when you play in those sort of derbies you need to bring intensity," Rennie said. "When we did that we were much better.
"There's motivating factors to get things right. You don't want to have to travel at the business end of the season. A trip to Pretoria is a long way. We're pretty keen to keep clear of them [the Bulls]."
On the other side it is all very well for Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett to praise the best 40 minutes from his side this season.
The failure to back it up, however, summarised everything that is immensely frustrating about the history of the franchise.
Too often the Hurricanes over-promise and under-deliver. That is again the case with the playoffs now out of reach. At the end of this season black and white results could paint a bleak picture. They've already lost eight games - two more than last year. Dane Coles further compounded difficulties.
It won't be any easier without the All Blacks hooker who is out of the final two weeks with a calf strain
"We could have gone through and won the next three [games] and still not got through," Hammett said.
For the Chiefs, big prop Ben Tameifuna showed the benefits of twice-a-day trainings to destroy the Hurricanes scrum from the bench, but it was another masterclass from Aaron Cruden which set the tone from the start.
Coming off a successful campaign with the All Blacks, Cruden exuded confidence. His superb grubber to set up Bundee Aki's try was just one highlight.
Chiefs assistant coach Wayne Smith couldn't recall a time when New Zealand rugby was blessed with such depth at No 10.
While Barrett struggled in the second-half, missing a crucial penalty and throwing an intercept, alongside Carter and Cruden the All Blacks have three ready-made options.
"They were both exceptional tonight," Smith said of the pivots. "Beauden created a few problems for our defence in close. When he straightens and goes he's quick. He's in rare form on the back of some special All Black cameos.
"Cruden dictated and varied the play well. He's pretty special to coach. He understands lines really well; organises people brilliantly. One day he's going to be a great coach."
Barrett, perhaps, best summed up the Hurricanes predicament: "When we get front foot ball, we can put teams away but we need to do it for 80 minutes."
Sunday Star Times