Chiefs' home final a reward for squad and fans
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said today his team had been prepared to travel to South Africa for the Super Rugby final and the home final they would now have next Saturday was more of benefit for the fans and the fringe squad members.
They will play the Durban-based Sharks at Waikato Stadium on Saturday night after beating the Crusaders 20-17 in the semi-final last Friday night and then watching the sixth-seeded Sharks upset the No 1 ranked Stormers 26-19 in Cape Town this morning (NZ time).
That means that as second seeds the Chiefs get to host the final after all but Rennie said his team had taken the mindset after their semi-final win that they were prepared to play the final anywhere.
"In the end we were just happy to be in the final and if we had to travel we had to travel," Rennie said.
"But there are a lot of good reasons to be at home. It's the chance to play in front of all our supporters, our people and our family, so it's great from that point of view.
"But more importantly playing away from home we can only take 24 guys so you leave a chunk of your squad at home, who don't get to be part of preparing for a final.
"So I think it's really neat that we're going to be here and everyone's going to be involved and if we win a championship it won't just be about the 22 or the 24 who travel."
Rennie said that was important because a lot of guys had contributed to the Chiefs' success this year.
This will be the second time in the final for the Chiefs - they played the Bulls in Pretoria in 2009 and were thumped 61-17 - and the first home final in the franchise's 17-year history.
The 24 players who were going to travel to Cape Town if the Stormers won the second semi-final were told on Saturday when the Chiefs went through their usual recovery and massage routines and had a meeting to announce arrangements for the possible South African trip.
The Chiefs are today going through their normal post-match review and have a light run and pool session to flush out the aches and pains from Friday night's bruising semi-final.
They will then go into a normal week of match preparation, training Monday and Tuesday, having Wednesday off, train Thursday, have their captain's run Friday before the match at 7.35pm on Saturday.
The Sharks are flying to Australia and trying to be as smart as they can with their travel plans, setting up camp in the relaxing environs of Coogee Beach, Sydney, before travelling to New Zealand on Thursday.
It has been a murderous schedule for them, flying from South Africa to Australia to beat the third-seeded Australian Conference winners, The Reds, in the finals series qualifier, returning to South Africa to take on the Stormers in Cape Town and then flying back to Australasia on a two-part trip to play the final in Hamilton.
The final will feature two former Wellington provincial coaches in charge of the respective teams - Dave Rennie for the Chiefs and John Plumtree for the Sharks.
Rennie said the coaches had done a lot of work analysing the Stormers over the last couple days, having not played them in the regular season.
They knew a bit more about the Sharks whom they had beaten 18-12 in Durban back in April and were now stepping up their study of their latest matches, including today's two-tries-to-one semi-final victory.
"They're a good side and have been the form South African side over the last six weeks so they will be a real handful," Rennie said.
"When we last played them it was a time when they were pretty battered and bruised, having played eight in a row and just returned from New Zealand, and we were at the end of an overseas leg so we were pretty tired too.
"We know a bit about them from that game and know what to expect. They got into us and certainly targeted Sonny [Bill Williams] and were able to disrupt a bit of our ball."
French first-five Frederic Michalak, who was one of the Sharks' stars today with his creative attacking play and deadly boot, was on the bench on that occasion with Patrick Lambie playing in the 10 jersey.
"I'm not sure whether Patrick Lambie will be available for them this week or not," Rennie said.