Tenacious Chiefs defy the critics yet again

Last updated 08:29 04/08/2013

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Last year's title was no fluke.

Any doubts about the Chiefs' tenacity were put to rest at Waikato Stadium last night.

For all of 67 minutes the calculated, controlled and conservative Brumbies looked as though they would pull off one of Super Rugby's most memorable upsets.

Make no mistake, Jake White's men were on track to defy history and overcome a ruthless travel schedule that saw them trek from Pretoria to Hamilton.

But if ever the Chiefs' unbreakable character was on show, it was last night. Back-to-back titles are something special; something to savour; something very rare indeed.

The Chiefs had to wait 16 years for their first championship. Then Dave Rennie, Wayne Smith, Tom Coventry and Andrew Strawbridge arrived and made it look easy.

The critics said the moneyball men couldn't do it without Sonny Bill-Williams. The critics wrote the defending champions off against the Crusaders. Those same pundits will now sit back and ponder what could be the creation of a dynasty.

Comparisons to the Crusaders are inevitable, but the Chiefs are different. Their Ruakura base says as much. They rightly celebrated this achievement long into the night. What better way to send off co-captain Craig Clarke, Lelia Masaga, Richard Kahui, Toby Smith, Brendon Leonard.

Credit to the unheralded Brumbies and their talented former Waikato playmaker Christian Lealiifano, who score all their 22 points.

Eventually, the travel took its toll. In final 15 minutes the gallant men from Canberra were out on their feet. Before then in many ways the Chiefs had saved their worst for last. In the end, though, it didn't matter. In sport there is always a fine line between success and failure.

To the victors go the spoils.

No-one epitomised the scrappy evening more than Tawera Kerr-Barlow. The Chiefs halfback had every right to give his forward pack a solid thump at half-time.

Every time Kerr-Barlow attempted to clear the ball he was hounded. The poor ball presentation, lack of protection and questionable policing of the offside line by referee Craig Joubert around the fringes hurt the Chiefs' ability to launch attacks.

Other than two crunching hits from big Ben Tameifuna the Chiefs barely fired a shot for 60-odd minutes. It took 24 minutes for the Chiefs to break their duck with an Aaron Cruden penalty. The All Blacks first five-eighth was not striking the ball well, missing eight points. In the end, that did not matter.

Much of the Brumbies' early dominance can be put down to captain Ben Mowen and evergreen flanker George Smith, who, together, produced a relentless tag-team effort at the breakdown.

The stop-start affair played into the Brumbies' hands. The visitors needed a slow game to prevail; to showcase the best of their tactical nous. For the most part that's exactly what they got. The Chiefs had fleeting moments to break open; minimal space to breathe. Until the jet-lag kicked in.

With Kerr-Barlow repeatedly scragged, the Brumbies backs - led by Lealiifano - had time to implement a disruptive rush defence that rattled the favourites into mistakes.

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This was no more evident when Lealiifano scooped up a fumbled Kerr-Barlow pass to race 40 metres for the decisive first try. TMO Vinny Munro decided Smith was onside at the ruck, much to the frustration of the 25,000 local fans.

Down 16-9 at the interval, it was no surprise to see the Chiefs inject All Blacks flanker Sam Cane for No 8 Matt vant Leven. They desperately needed some support for their ball carriers; someone to challenge Smith and Mowen in the scrap for possession.

As he has done throughout his stellar career for the Chiefs, co-captain Liam Messam stepped up when it mattered most, barging over from a scrum to, finally, convert pressure into points. That was the defining strike that lifted his team to glory.

- Waikato


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