There is no going back for the Chiefs now - as back-to-back champions they have higher expectations than in their underachieving past, according to assistant coach Wayne Smith.
With that comes living life in the glare of the spotlight, targeted by every team they play in the 16-match Super Rugby round-robin, but in the last year they have learnt to relish that challenge rather than shy away from it after being perennial under-achievers for years.
"We know that we're going to be a hunted team, but our minds have been reshaped over the last two years," former All Blacks coach Smith said.
"Now our expectations are that whoever pulls the jersey on is going to play to the level of the person who had it before and it's not about who you play but how you play.
"We know if whoever is on the field plays bloody well then we've got a show of winning and that's what we've done in the last couple of years - nothing will change this year.
"And once you've reshaped your mind you can't bring it back."
The Chiefs now had expectations of winning going into every match, knew what it took to win and didn't expect anything less than that no matter who the opposition were or what the location, conditions or circumstances were.
In some ways the Chiefs have learnt what the Crusaders lived with for years as the competition's most winning team.
Whether they have taken over the mantle from the Crusaders only time will tell, but there is no doubt their clashes with each other have been the new benchmark derbies of the New Zealand Conference and tomorrow night in Christchurch will be no different.
"It really has become a derby," said Smith.
"Literally you're playing an All Black team, but as I said it doesn't matter who you play it's how you play and we know what we've got to do to be successful and just have to go and put it on the track.
"We'll have some new faces out there people won't know and we're pretty confident they'll come up up to the level and I think it will be a pretty tight game."
The Chiefs have long memories of their last visit to Christchurch late last season when they were soundly thumped 43-15.
"We didn't have the right attitude; I don't know if it was complacency but we certainly didn't take our Chiefs mana with us, we know that and that's what we've got to do this year."
This week the emphasis has been on getting the attitude right for the season opener and taking every bit of their physicality and controlled aggression with them on their trip south if they are to threaten a Crusaders team with a proud home record.
"They don't get beaten there very often. In fact I can't remember the last time they got beaten there, so it's a hell of a big ask, but we'll go down and give it a good crack."
While they still had a number of injuries they weren't going to get those players back immediately and the replacements knew they just had to take on the responsibility and get the job done.
Despite that, the off-season preparation had been good and he and his fellow coaches Dave Rennie, Tom Coventry and Andrew Strawbridge had again worked hard to study trends around the world to look for an edge.
"We spend months looking at those areas of the game so we're trying to bring stuff in all the time that will make us better.
"A lot of coaching goes on here by a lot of people, but that's our way and there's a lot of coachability among the players - a keenness to improve - so we're just always moving on and certainly we'll be different to what we were last year."
The Chiefs' game plan and their defence were relatively complex and that could create problems at the start of any season with players' minds cluttered.
"But over the length of a season it pays dividends because you're less able to be targeted, teams can't pick up your trends so easily and combat you.
"It's the same this year. We've got plans A, B and C that the boys are still learning and sometimes the lines are wrong both in attack and defence, but we'll improve as we go along and hopefully we'll have another good season," Smith said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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