2013 review: Brains trust force behind Super title

Liam Messam takes on the Crusaders defence.
Liam Messam takes on the Crusaders defence.
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma is downed by Owen Franks.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma is downed by Owen Franks.
Fans in full voice as the Chiefs take on the Crusaders.
Fans in full voice as the Chiefs take on the Crusaders.
Andrew Horrell in action for the Chiefs in their regular season finale win over the Blues.
Andrew Horrell in action for the Chiefs in their regular season finale win over the Blues.
Ben Tameifuna on the charge for the Chiefs.
Ben Tameifuna on the charge for the Chiefs.
Bundee Aki scores at full stretch against the Blues.
Bundee Aki scores at full stretch against the Blues.
Aaron Cruden converts a try during the Chiefs' win over the Blues.
Aaron Cruden converts a try during the Chiefs' win over the Blues.
Ross Filipo of the Chiefs tackles Dan Carter of the Crusaders after a kick in the Crusaders in goal during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Ross Filipo of the Chiefs tackles Dan Carter of the Crusaders after a kick in the Crusaders in goal during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs celebrates his try with Ben Tameifuna during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs celebrates his try with Ben Tameifuna during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs runs with the ball during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs runs with the ball during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs runs with the ball into defender Tom Marshall of the Crusaders during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs runs with the ball into defender Tom Marshall of the Crusaders during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Lelia Masaga makes a break against the Hurricanes, with Matt Vant Leven in support.
Lelia Masaga makes a break against the Hurricanes, with Matt Vant Leven in support.
Tim Nanai-Williams attempts to bust through the Hurricanes defence.
Tim Nanai-Williams attempts to bust through the Hurricanes defence.
Matt Vant Leven climbs high to win a lineout against the Hurricanes.
Matt Vant Leven climbs high to win a lineout against the Hurricanes.
A see of Chiefs flags welcomes the NZ conference leaders ahead of their game against the Hurricanes.
A see of Chiefs flags welcomes the NZ conference leaders ahead of their game against the Hurricanes.
Liam Messam charges ahead against the Crusaders.
Liam Messam charges ahead against the Crusaders.
Aaron Cruden goes in to score the opening try against the Crusaders.
Aaron Cruden goes in to score the opening try against the Crusaders.
Tanerau Latimer (left) and Tawera Kerr-Barlow wrap up George Whitelock of the Crusaders.
Tanerau Latimer (left) and Tawera Kerr-Barlow wrap up George Whitelock of the Crusaders.
Robbie Robinson in action against the Crusaders.
Robbie Robinson in action against the Crusaders.
Liam Messam charges into the gap for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes.
Liam Messam charges into the gap for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes.
Aaron Cruden gets a kick away under pressure from Hurricanes lock Ben May.
Aaron Cruden gets a kick away under pressure from Hurricanes lock Ben May.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow spins it wide against the Hurricanes.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow spins it wide against the Hurricanes.
Prop Ben Afeaki charges into the open for the Chiefs.
Prop Ben Afeaki charges into the open for the Chiefs.
Robbie Robinson of the Chiefs competes for a high ball against Kyle Godwin of the Force.
Robbie Robinson of the Chiefs competes for a high ball against Kyle Godwin of the Force.
Brett Sheehan watches the Force and Chiefs packs contest a scrum.
Brett Sheehan watches the Force and Chiefs packs contest a scrum.
Ben McCalman of the Force is tackled by Matt Vant Leven during their Round 13 Super Rugby clash.
Ben McCalman of the Force is tackled by Matt Vant Leven during their Round 13 Super Rugby clash.
Bundee Aki celebrates after scoring a try against the Melbourne Rebels.
Bundee Aki celebrates after scoring a try against the Melbourne Rebels.
Sam Cane (second from left) is congratulated by team-mates after scoring against the Melbourne Rebels.
Sam Cane (second from left) is congratulated by team-mates after scoring against the Melbourne Rebels.
Gareth Anscombe goes in to score against the Melbourne Rebels.
Gareth Anscombe goes in to score against the Melbourne Rebels.
Brendon Leonard (right) takes on his opposite number Nick Phipps of the Melbourne Rebels.
Brendon Leonard (right) takes on his opposite number Nick Phipps of the Melbourne Rebels.
Bundee Aki dives over for a try during the Chiefs win over the Sharks at Waikato Stadium.
Bundee Aki dives over for a try during the Chiefs win over the Sharks at Waikato Stadium.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma attempts to break through a Sharks tackle.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma attempts to break through a Sharks tackle.
Liam Messam helps carry the load against the Sharks in Hamilton.
Liam Messam helps carry the load against the Sharks in Hamilton.
Ben Tameifuna on the charge against the Sharks.
Ben Tameifuna on the charge against the Sharks.
Aaron Cruden spins it wide against the Waratahs.
Aaron Cruden spins it wide against the Waratahs.
Gareth Anscombe streaks away from the Waratahs defence.
Gareth Anscombe streaks away from the Waratahs defence.
Sitaleki Timani receives a yellow card.
Sitaleki Timani receives a yellow card.
The Chiefs huddle under the posts after conceding a try to the Waratahs.
The Chiefs huddle under the posts after conceding a try to the Waratahs.
The Reds' Quade Cooper is tackled by the Chiefs' Aaron Cruden during their clash in Hamilton.
The Reds' Quade Cooper is tackled by the Chiefs' Aaron Cruden during their clash in Hamilton.
Chief Bundee Aki goes over to score a try against the Reds in Hamilton.
Chief Bundee Aki goes over to score a try against the Reds in Hamilton.
Richard Kahui of the Chiefs dives over to score a try during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Richard Kahui of the Chiefs dives over to score a try during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Michael Fitzgerald of the Chiefs charges forward during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Michael Fitzgerald of the Chiefs charges forward during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Aaron Cruden with the ball during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Aaron Cruden with the ball during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Richard Kahui on the charge during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Richard Kahui on the charge during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Liam Messam receives a greenstone mere from former Chiefs coach Ian Foster during a special presentation to celebrate his 100th game for the Chiefs.
Liam Messam receives a greenstone mere from former Chiefs coach Ian Foster during a special presentation to celebrate his 100th game for the Chiefs.
Andrew Horrell comes up just short in his dive for the try line.
Andrew Horrell comes up just short in his dive for the try line.
Tim Nanai-Williams is congratulated after scoring the Chiefs' only try in their win over the Highlanders.
Tim Nanai-Williams is congratulated after scoring the Chiefs' only try in their win over the Highlanders.
Richard Kahui makes a break in his return for the Chiefs during their win over the Highlanders.
Richard Kahui makes a break in his return for the Chiefs during their win over the Highlanders.
Liam Messam fans show some love for the Chiefs co-captain's 100th game celebrations.
Liam Messam fans show some love for the Chiefs co-captain's 100th game celebrations.
Aaron Cruden fends off Highlanders counterpart Colin Slade.
Aaron Cruden fends off Highlanders counterpart Colin Slade.
Liam Messam gets his side fired up during his 100th Super Rugby game for the Chiefs against the Southern Kings.
Liam Messam gets his side fired up during his 100th Super Rugby game for the Chiefs against the Southern Kings.
Lelia Masaga makes a run during his triple-try scoring effort against the Kings.
Lelia Masaga makes a run during his triple-try scoring effort against the Kings.
Andrew Horrell makes a break for the Chiefs during their bonus point win over the Southern Kings.
Andrew Horrell makes a break for the Chiefs during their bonus point win over the Southern Kings.
Hika Elliot in action against the Southern Kings.
Hika Elliot in action against the Southern Kings.
Liam Messam charges ahead for the Chiefs.
Liam Messam charges ahead for the Chiefs.
Tanerau Latimer looks to spread the ball wide.
Tanerau Latimer looks to spread the ball wide.
Sam Cane charges headlong into the Stormers' defence.
Sam Cane charges headlong into the Stormers' defence.
Stormers wing Bryan Habana is tackled during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and the Chiefs.
Stormers wing Bryan Habana is tackled during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and the Chiefs.
Brodie Retallick gets an offload away.
Brodie Retallick gets an offload away.
Liam Messam on the charge.
Liam Messam on the charge.
Tim Nanai-Williams tries to evade a tackler.
Tim Nanai-Williams tries to evade a tackler.
Gareth Anscombe goes over to score for the Chiefs against the Cheetahs.
Gareth Anscombe goes over to score for the Chiefs against the Cheetahs.
Liam Messam tries to avoid the tackle of Ma'a Nonu during his side's opening round win over the Highlanders.
Liam Messam tries to avoid the tackle of Ma'a Nonu during his side's opening round win over the Highlanders.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow clears the ball during the Chiefs' win over the Highlanders.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow clears the ball during the Chiefs' win over the Highlanders.
Gareth Anscombe gets caught in a tackle on his Chiefs debut against the Highlanders.
Gareth Anscombe gets caught in a tackle on his Chiefs debut against the Highlanders.
Patrick Osborne dives over for a try against the Highlanders.
Patrick Osborne dives over for a try against the Highlanders.

The Chiefs found themselves with targets on their backs this time after their surprise championship victory in 2012, but in the end they followed a similar path to success.

This time they went one better in the regular season in finishing top of the table, but just like in 2012, they went into the final weekend sitting in second place before the last half-dozen results went their way.

The Chiefs claimed a hard-fought 26-16 victory over the Blues at Eden Park; the previous front-runners, the Bulls, finished with a heavy 30-13 loss to the Stormers at Newlands; and the third-placed Brumbies went down 21-15 to the Force in Perth.

Liam Messam takes on the Crusaders defence.
Liam Messam takes on the Crusaders defence.
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma is downed by Owen Franks.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma is downed by Owen Franks.
Fans in full voice as the Chiefs take on the Crusaders.
Fans in full voice as the Chiefs take on the Crusaders.

That left the Chiefs on top with 66 points, the South African Conference-winning Bulls on 63 and both the Australian Conference champion Brumbies and New Zealand Conference runners-up, the Crusaders, on 60.

While the Chiefs and Bulls enjoyed byes, the Crusaders thumped the Reds in Christchurch 38-9 and the Brumbies also had home success in less convincing fashion, 15-13 in Canberra, in the two qualifying round matches.

For the second year in a row, that set up a semifinal showdown between the Chiefs and the record-holding Crusaders at Waikato Stadium and again it was the home side who narrowly came away with the honours - 20-19 thanks to a super defensive effort that kept the visitors to just one sensational try, from All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg.

The Chiefs perform their post-match haka.
The Chiefs perform their post-match haka.
The Chiefs celebrate their second straight Super Rugby crown.
The Chiefs celebrate their second straight Super Rugby crown.
Chiefs co-captains Liam Messam and Craig Clarke get their hands on the silverware.
Chiefs co-captains Liam Messam and Craig Clarke get their hands on the silverware.
Players take a moment to reflect after the final siren.
Players take a moment to reflect after the final siren.
Man of the Match Liam Messam celebrates.
Man of the Match Liam Messam celebrates.
Aaron Cruden gets close to the tryline.
Aaron Cruden gets close to the tryline.
Liam Messam celebrates the win.
Liam Messam celebrates the win.
Chiefs fullback Gareth Anscombe is tackled.
Chiefs fullback Gareth Anscombe is tackled.
Robbie Robinson goes in for a try.
Robbie Robinson goes in for a try.
Chiefs co-captain Liam Messam makes a rush against the Brumbies defence.
Chiefs co-captain Liam Messam makes a rush against the Brumbies defence.
Brodie Retallick of the Chiefs competes with Ben Mowen of the Brumbies for the ball.
Brodie Retallick of the Chiefs competes with Ben Mowen of the Brumbies for the ball.
Chiefs co-captain Liam Messam on the attack.
Chiefs co-captain Liam Messam on the attack.
The Brumbies second-five Christian Lealiifano scores a try as Chiefs first-five Aaron Cruden can only look on.
The Brumbies second-five Christian Lealiifano scores a try as Chiefs first-five Aaron Cruden can only look on.
Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick tries to break through the Brumbies' defence.
Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick tries to break through the Brumbies' defence.
The Chiefs'  Ben Tamiefuna makes a charge with the ball.
The Chiefs' Ben Tamiefuna makes a charge with the ball.
The Chiefs' Gareth Anscombe runs into strong Brumbies defence.
The Chiefs' Gareth Anscombe runs into strong Brumbies defence.
Charlie Ngatai gets a pass away for the Chiefs.
Charlie Ngatai gets a pass away for the Chiefs.
Toby Smith on the charge for the Chiefs.
Toby Smith on the charge for the Chiefs.
Stan Walker performs before kick-off.
Stan Walker performs before kick-off.
Chiefs fan Christian Raindrop.
Chiefs fan Christian Raindrop.
Brumbies fans enjoy the atmosphere at Waikato Stadium.
Brumbies fans enjoy the atmosphere at Waikato Stadium.

Meanwhile, the Brumbies, who had set the pace in the regular season for a large chunk of it, did what many thought was impossible - they travelled to Pretoria and upset the Bulls 26-23 with a late try at the fortress-like Loftus Versfeld.

Just as it was for the Sharks the year before, the travel factor was against the Brumbies as they returned home for a quick turnaround to play the Chiefs in Hamilton in the final, but with the shrewd Jake White at the reins the Australians put in a massive effort before going down 27-22 to give the home side their second title in as many seasons.

Again, much credit had to go to the brains-trust - the four-man coaching team of Dave Rennie, Tom Coventry, Wayne Smith and Andrew Strawbridge.

Richard Kahui on the Chiefs' victory truck as it drove through Hamilton's city centre.
Richard Kahui on the Chiefs' victory truck as it drove through Hamilton's city centre.
Deafening cheers filled the air as the Chiefs made their way through Hamilton's city centre this afternoon. Bundee Aki with the cup.
Deafening cheers filled the air as the Chiefs made their way through Hamilton's city centre this afternoon. Bundee Aki with the cup.
Deafening cheers filled the air as the Chiefs made their way through Hamilton's city centre this afternoon. Bundee Aki with the cup.
Deafening cheers filled the air as the Chiefs made their way through Hamilton's city centre this afternoon. Bundee Aki with the cup.
Ben Tameifuna with the  Super Rugby cup.
Ben Tameifuna with the Super Rugby cup.
VICTORY PARADE: The Chiefs celebrate winning the Super Rugby title for the second year in a row.
VICTORY PARADE: The Chiefs celebrate winning the Super Rugby title for the second year in a row.
VICTORY PARADE: Chiefs' fans celebrate winning the Super Rugby title for the second year in a row.
VICTORY PARADE: Chiefs' fans celebrate winning the Super Rugby title for the second year in a row.
VICTORY PARADE: Chiefs' fans celebrate winning the Super Rugby title for the second year in a row.
VICTORY PARADE: Chiefs' fans celebrate winning the Super Rugby title for the second year in a row.
VICTORY PARADE: Chiefs' fans celebrate winning the Super Rugby title for the second year in a row.
VICTORY PARADE: Chiefs' fans celebrate winning the Super Rugby title for the second year in a row.
VICTORY PARADE: Chiefs' fans celebrate winning the Super Rugby title for the second year in a row.
VICTORY PARADE: Chiefs' fans celebrate winning the Super Rugby title for the second year in a row.
VICTORY PARADE: The Chiefs are all smiles as the celebrate winning the Super Rugby title.
VICTORY PARADE: The Chiefs are all smiles as the celebrate winning the Super Rugby title.
VICTORY PARADE: The Chiefs are all smiles as the celebrate winning the Super Rugby title.
VICTORY PARADE: The Chiefs are all smiles as the celebrate winning the Super Rugby title.

This was not an easy season for them. Sonny Bill Williams had departed to the NRL and every opponent lifted against the playing-through champions.

The injury toll was extremely high and the Chiefs were forced to dip deep into their playing resources, rotating midfielders and No 8s in particular, but the canny recruiting by the coaching quartet, who placed a premium on character and work ethic, again paid off as those who were called upon mostly stepped up to the mark.

The Bulls' metronomic kicker, Morne Steyn, might have finished as the competition's top points-scorer with 248, and Blues wing Frank Halai top try scorer with 10, but the Chiefs had plenty of individual heroes to back up their all-conquering team ethos.

The Chiefs perform their victory haka after winning back-to-back Super Rugby titles in August.
The Chiefs perform their victory haka after winning back-to-back Super Rugby titles in August.

The team made first five-eighth Aaron Cruden their player of the year and that was hard to argue with. Niggling injuries meant he gave up the goal-kicking duties to converted fullback Gareth Anscombe for the first half of the season, but his generalship of the team was again superb and he sparked the attacking style the Chiefs have become known for.

Liam Messam was the player of the final and continues to go from strength to strength as a blindside flanker/No 8, while Tanerau Latimer was never far behind him and lock Brodie Retallick was the epitome of a workaholic tight forward.

Waikato Times