Bless 'em, says Messam: dirt trackers did their job
Liam Messam has laid credit at the feet of the Chiefs' "dirt-trackers" for preparing them for the physicality of the Crusaders in last Friday night's Super Rugby semifinal.
"It all started with our DDs [dirty dirties] - the guys in the squad who were not playing - giving us a tickle-up at training," co-captain and blindside flanker Messam said.
"They got stuck into us on Monday and that was the benchmark we set all week.
"That was a good wake-up call for us and let us know where we need to be so it was good to come out [for the game] and have that steel."
Messam said the training session, away from prying eyes, was designed to recreate what the Crusaders would bring to the Friday night semifinal and bring "a bit of edge and a bit of steel" to the Chiefs.
It had been a joint call from both coaches and players to do that and such physical trainings had proven successful for the Chiefs this season. It resulted this time in a huge step up in intensity from the Chiefs in the semifinal.
"We went away from it for two weeks and we lost so we've gone back to what we know best and we know if we get our preparation right we give ourselves the best chance to win the final."
The steel they restored in the forward pack was reflected in some testy incidents during the game as the Chiefs forwards were determined to stand up to their opponents, who were mostly All Blacks.
"We had to have a bit of steel about ourselves, especially in the forward pack."
Head coach Dave Rennie said the Chiefs tended to play better when they had a bit of intensity about their training rather than easing off at this stage of the season and would look to do the same this week in building up to the final.
"In the end you've got to find some edge somewhere and we've always found that we've fronted better when we've worked harder throughout the week.
"We've had a couple of weeks where we've tapered off and haven't fronted as well so the guys who we call the sparkplugs last week got off the [defensive] line and got in amongst us and were destructive - everything we expected from the Crusaders - and it certainly got the boys in the right frame of mind."
Messam said the Chiefs had been humbled by the home crowd support and it hadn't hit home until they had done a lap of the ground afterwards to thank them, thinking it might be their last game there this year.
The Chiefs' co-captain said it had been a huge boost to their confidence to beat a team with the Crusaders' playoff experience and host of All Blacks.
"Everyone said we were the underdogs this week and no-one backed us. [The Crusaders] have won seven titles and they've got some class players in their side, but we had the belief in our side and we've had that since last November when we first met."
Defence had played a major part in their victory as it had in getting them this far in the competition.
"That's what's going to win us this championship. Personally I was a bit down on my defence so that's something I can work on for the week and be a leader in that but I'm just rapt for the boys to get to the final."
If he was critical of his own defence in the game he could hardly bag his attack with him and Sonny Bill Williams the two outstanding figures in that area against the Crusaders, his try a gem.
"I was just sneaking off SB's [Williams] shoulder as he always gets that offload, but I was just rapt with the way all the boys played today."
Messam said he and Williams took a bit of stick for being "bro-mates" within the team because they stuck together so closely but it paid off on the field. "We just seem to have that combination. I know what he's capable of with the ball so it's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time."