OPINION: Be wary, Chiefs. I'm pretty sure you would have preferred to be facing the Bulls in Saturday night's Super Rugby final rather than those pesky Brumbies who can be troublesome beasts.
We all know the Bulls don't travel well. The Brumbies do. And they proved it again in South Africa on Sunday morning.
We also know the travel factor will hit Jake White's team at some stage of a final to be played out before a boisterous crowd and against ferocious opposition.
But we also know the Brumbies are a team who have the skill set and game nous to overcome all sorts of challenges.
I suspect White will privately tell his players that the travel handicap is worth, maybe, six points. That's two penalty goals. He'll tell his men: "Our game plan is to be seven points ahead with 10 minutes to go when that travel factor is most likely to hit us... and then we guts it out."
Just like the Chiefs did on Saturday night.
Not that the Chiefs need me telling them what to expect. I'm the bloke who tipped them to lose to the Crusaders.
But you know what? I'm happy to be proven wrong.
It's not as if the Crusaders didn't live up to my expectations in Hamilton.
It's not as if their performance was plagued by handling errors. Or that they were dominated territorially or physically.
Quite the opposite.
They were defensively solid and they took most of their points when they were on offer. In fact, the Crusaders threw pretty much everything they had at the Chiefs.
In the end, it took two pieces of individual brilliance - the Masaga try and the Cruden intercept - to break them.
The Crusaders were very good but, in the end, not good enough.
But it was more than that.
They also ran into a team full of character, belief and courage - and who produced a heroic performance based on those core values.
Even as a proud ex-Crusader, it wasn't hard to walk away from Waikato Stadium filled with nothing but admiration for a team that had gone into the game as underdogs in the eyes of many.
Many, but not all.
The Chiefs have many believers. We heard them on Saturday night. Before then, I respected their achievements but was unsure if they had the character to go back to back!
Now I'm a believer.
I have new-found and even deeper respect for the Chiefs after what they achieved against the Crusaders, for what they accomplished last year and for hosting two finals in a row.
I also have to acknowledge they have usurped the Crusaders as New Zealand's premier Super Rugby franchise. The torch has been passed.
And that will hurt the Crusaders.
They will look back on this semi and wonder if they were a little panicky in those fateful final five minutes. Did they go for that winning drop goal too early?
Those sorts of questions will haunt them as they reflect.
They were in such a rich vein of form and they fired so many shots in that game.
I particularly feel for Dan Carter. He was playing so well this season and with the likelihood, although it's not definite, of him taking a sabbatical from Super Rugby next season, there must be questions over when he will ever get to lift that trophy again.
The Crusaders, not having done that now since 2008, will be asking themselves the same question.
They must also acknowledge they are now behind the Chiefs as New Zealand's premier franchise. They are no longer the innovators. The hunter has been hunted down.
Now they are just like every other team in the competition. Chasing the Chiefs.
That will be a bitter pill to swallow and there will be a lot of off-season thinking required, particularly if Carter doesn't play next year.
In looking at the Chiefs, I see a franchise that has recognised the traits that made the Crusaders successful and have taken it to another level.
Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith, along with their assistants, deserve enormous credit for that.
The more I have to do with and observe Dave Rennie the more convinced I am that I am looking at a future All Blacks coach.
His level-headed approach and honesty, the way he talks and conducts himself, what he is able to get out his players are all hallmarks of an astute coach.
You see that intelligence in the Chiefs. They win tight games because they don't panic. They don't buckle under pressure.
Nor will they under-estimate the Brumbies.
We have a better final for the presence of the Australian side. But it's the Chiefs to secure their second successive title and another chapter in a building dynasty.
And this time, I'm pretty certain I've got it right. Maybe.......
- © Fairfax NZ News
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