2013 review: Brains trust force behind Super title

13:10, Dec 26 2013
Chiefs v Highlanders
Liam Messam tries to avoid the tackle of Ma'a Nonu during his side's opening round win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Patrick Osborne dives over for a try against the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Tawera Kerr-Barlow clears the ball during the Chiefs' win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Gareth Anscombe gets caught in a tackle on his Chiefs debut against the Highlanders.
Gareth Anscombe
Gareth Anscombe goes over to score for the Chiefs against the Cheetahs.
Tim Nanai-Williams
Tim Nanai-Williams tries to evade a tackler.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam on the charge.
Brodie Retallick
Brodie Retallick gets an offload away.
Chiefs
Stormers wing Bryan Habana is tackled during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and the Chiefs.
Sam Cane gallery
Sam Cane charges headlong into the Stormers' defence.
Tanerau Latimer
Tanerau Latimer looks to spread the ball wide.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam charges ahead for the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Kings
Andrew Horrell makes a break for the Chiefs during their bonus point win over the Southern Kings.
Chiefs v Kings
Lelia Masaga makes a run during his triple-try scoring effort against the Kings.
Chiefs v Kings
Hika Elliot in action against the Southern Kings.
Chiefs v Kings
Liam Messam gets his side fired up during his 100th Super Rugby game for the Chiefs against the Southern Kings.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Liam Messam receives a greenstone mere from former Chiefs coach Ian Foster during a special presentation to celebrate his 100th game for the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Liam Messam fans show some love for the Chiefs co-captain's 100th game celebrations.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Richard Kahui makes a break in his return for the Chiefs during their win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Aaron Cruden fends off Highlanders counterpart Colin Slade.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Tim Nanai-Williams is congratulated after scoring the Chiefs' only try in their win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Andrew Horrell comes up just short in his dive for the try line.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Michael Fitzgerald of the Chiefs charges forward during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Chiefs 2013 Season
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.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Aaron Cruden with the ball during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Richard Kahui on the charge during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Quade Cooper
The Reds' Quade Cooper is tackled by the Chiefs' Aaron Cruden during their clash in Hamilton.
Bundee Aki
Chief Bundee Aki goes over to score a try against the Reds in Hamilton.
Chiefs gallery
Gareth Anscombe streaks away from the Waratahs defence.
Chiefs gallery
Sitaleki Timani receives a yellow card.
Chiefs gallery
Aaron Cruden spins it wide against the Waratahs.
Chiefs gallery
The Chiefs huddle under the posts after conceding a try to the Waratahs.
Chiefs v Sharks
Bundee Aki dives over for a try during the Chiefs win over the Sharks at Waikato Stadium.
Chiefs v Sharks
Asaeli Tikoirotuma attempts to break through a Sharks tackle.
Chiefs v Sharks
Ben Tameifuna on the charge against the Sharks.
Chiefs v Sharks
Liam Messam helps carry the load against the Sharks in Hamilton.
Chiefs
Gareth Anscombe goes in to score against the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs
Sam Cane (second from left) is congratulated by team-mates after scoring against the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs
Brendon Leonard (right) takes on his opposite number Nick Phipps of the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs
Bundee Aki celebrates after scoring a try against the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs season 2013
Robbie Robinson of the Chiefs competes for a high ball against Kyle Godwin of the Force.
Chiefs season 2013
Ben McCalman of the Force is tackled by Matt Vant Leven during their Round 13 Super Rugby clash.
Chiefs season 2013
Brett Sheehan watches the Force and Chiefs packs contest a scrum.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Tawera Kerr-Barlow spins it wide against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Liam Messam charges into the gap for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Prop Ben Afeaki charges into the open for the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Aaron Cruden gets a kick away under pressure from Hurricanes lock Ben May.
Chiefs gallery
Aaron Cruden goes in to score the opening try against the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery
Tanerau Latimer (left) and Tawera Kerr-Barlow wrap up George Whitelock of the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery
Robbie Robinson in action against the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery
Liam Messam charges ahead against the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery 2013
A see of Chiefs flags welcomes the NZ conference leaders ahead of their game against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs gallery 2013
Matt Vant Leven climbs high to win a lineout against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs gallery 2013
Tim Nanai-Williams attempts to bust through the Hurricanes defence.
Chiefs gallery 2013
Lelia Masaga makes a break against the Hurricanes, with Matt Vant Leven in support.
Chiefs 2013
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.
Chiefs 2013
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs runs with the ball during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs celebrates his try with Ben Tameifuna during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013
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.
Chiefs v Blues
Andrew Horrell in action for the Chiefs in their regular season finale win over the Blues.
Chiefs v Blues
Ben Tameifuna on the charge for the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Blues
Bundee Aki scores at full stretch against the Blues.
Chiefs v Blues
Aaron Cruden converts a try during the Chiefs' win over the Blues.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Liam Messam takes on the Crusaders defence.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Asaeli Tikoirotuma is downed by Owen Franks.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Fans in full voice as the Chiefs take on the Crusaders.

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.

Chiefs vs Crusaders
Liam Messam takes on the Crusaders defence.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Asaeli Tikoirotuma is downed by Owen Franks.
Chiefs vs 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.

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

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.

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

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.

Chiefs
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