Coach never saw Chiefs as a safe bet

16:00, Dec 31 2012

Fifteen months ago new Chiefs coach Dave Rennie had a couple of mates ring him.

They wanted the inside oil. Should they put their money on the Chiefs to win their first Super Rugby title in 2012 as the team was paying good money at the TAB?

Even the supremely confident and optimistic Rennie, a man with a clear vision of what was needed to turn the Chiefs around, could not bring himself to tell them to punt their life savings on his new-look team.

"I just said it was a pretty big call. This was October [2011] so it was about 10 months out [from the final] and I said: ‘we've got a pretty young side, we know we've picked a bunch of good buggers and they'll play for each other and empty out the tanks but whether we're good enough to win it' - I wasn't sure," Rennie said.

Fast forward to the first week of August and had those "mates" gone ahead and placed the bet anyway they would have been happily counting their winnings after the Chiefs whipped South Africa's Sharks 37-6 in a home final.

Rennie said that subsequent to that initial inquiry from his friends he and his fellow coaches liked what they saw through the pre-season phase and their players' ability to dig deep after a first-up competition loss to the Highlanders, even though surely they dared not dream of a title immediately.

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"We got on a bit of run for a while and got a lot of confidence from that so there was a lot of belief," Rennie said of the Chiefs' 10-match winning streak.

"Realistically we picked a lot of guys thinking year two would be the year that we really had a crack . . . a lot of it came down to just working hard for each other.

"We've certainly got goals again for this season] We had high expectations within our group anyway - I'm not sure the community did - but certainly those goals have changed now."

It took 17 years for the Chiefs to finally break through for a Super Rugby title and ironically they waited until the competition was in its second season of its toughest format yet - 15 teams playing in three conferences in three different countries with home and away matches within each conference.

"It's the toughest provincial competition in the world when you factor in not just the quality of the opposition but all the travel and so on. It's such a long competition and you've got to play all the New Zealand sides twice which is bloody tough."

Rennie is in no doubt that winning the title was the most satisfying thing he has achieved in his coaching career.

By the time the final came around the Chiefs were in a pretty good mindset, having bounced back from their back-to-back losses to the Crusaders and Hurricanes at the end of the round-robin to see off the Crusaders in the return match in the semifinals.

"The boys had been playing pretty good footy, there was a lot of that competitive edge and plenty of intensity around how we trained that week.

"The fact we didn't have to travel and the Sharks had to come all the way here was an obvious advantage, playing in front of our families and community and so on."

The Chiefs could still have frozen on the big stage.

"We were pretty clinical. The first 20 we lacked the intensity we brought the week before, but we forced the Sharks to make a lot of tackles and once we got our nose in front 13-3 at halftime we believed it was just a matter of playing it in the right part of the park and keep applying pressure."

Waikato Times