Chiefs headed for Cape Town for Super Rugby quarterfinal against the Stormers
The Chiefs are off to Cape Town, to face the Stormers in Super Rugby's quarterfinal next Sunday morning.
Having done as much as they could to avoid the long haul to South Africa, with their 28-10 final-round win over the Brumbies in Hamilton on Saturday night setting them up for a potential rematch in Canberra, the Chiefs then watched the Hurricanes-Crusaders game anxiously from their changing room at FMG Stadium Waikato.
But their cheering for the Crusaders in the end proved futile, with the Hurricanes' 31-22 win in Wellington sending the Chiefs on their mad journey across the world. It was starting with a 2am bus to Auckland, followed by the boarding of a flight which goes to Sydney, Johannesburg, then Cape Town.
It presents a repeat of last year's quarterfinal matchup, where the Chiefs hammered the Stormers, who then got revenge with victory in round seven this year.
While the Chiefs won't be so chuffed with having to go on their long haul, they will at least take some confidence from resuming after the international break in decent touch, having put the finishing touches on a first-ever Kiwi clean sweep over Aussie opposition in the regular season.
Led by a magical display from fullback Damian McKenzie - who scored 18 points and not only produced his customary twinkle toes, searing pace and superb setup play, but also delivered back-flick passes en masse and quality goalkicking - the Chiefs made it a stunning 25-0 in the trans-Tasman stakes.
If you take last year into account it's now 31 in a row, with the Hurricanes having the chance to add to that against the Brumbies next weekend.
Already assured a home quarterfinal under this crazy conference format - and potentially being against the Chiefs - the Brumbies came to town with 12 changes from last weekend, while the hosts were also keeping powder dry.
Resting Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane and Anton Lienert-Brown, the Chiefs also had Tim Nanai-Williams on Samoa duty, left out Dominic Bird because of a head knock, then Liam Messam was a late withdrawal, with his tweaked hamstring at training not considered too serious. That saw Lachlan Boshier move across to blindside, Mitch Karpik promoted to start at openside, and James Tucker added to the bench for his first action of the year.
That theme continued when second five-eighth Charlie Ngatai was pulled at halftime, having gone down with an ankle problem early on, as Dave Rennie emptied his bench with 10 minutes to play. Ngatai, limping post-match, was considered only a possibility for Cape Town.
While it was pretty comfortable stuff for the Chiefs, they certainly had to earn their way to the game's first points, required to make a mountain of tackles down their own end. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was McKenzie 10, Brumbies nil.
After first slotting a 17th minute penalty, just a few minutes later he finished off a brilliant try after a superb break through the middle from winger Solomon Alaimalo.
Nigel Ah Wong burst through some weak defence and the Chiefs carried just a 13-10 lead to halftime, having just a few minutes prior had a potentially stunning try to James Lowe correctly scrubbed out for a forward pass.
But just a minute into the second half, things fell very much the Chiefs' way, when Brumbies halfback Tomas Cubelli was sin binned for a cynical offside, after McKenzie quick-tapped straight after being barrelled over by a no-arms Scott Fardy shot. And from there the Chiefs cashed in, with crisp lineout ball then direct pick and goes leading to Alaimalo finishing out wide.
With 10 minutes to play No 8 Michael Leitch - who produced some absolute blockbusting carries - was on the end of a McKenzie setup, before the classy fullback slotted the conversion from the touchline.
The Chiefs do have the chance to host a semifinal and final, but this, in front of 13,753, was potentially the last game at home for their departing crew, with Rennie and assistant Kieran Keane, along with Hika Elliot, Leitch, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Cruden and Lowe all heading offshore.
Loose forward Tom Sanders is also understood to be leaving, back to the Crusaders. The 23-year-old, who has still been playing his NPC footy for Canterbury, was part of the Crusaders' wider squad in 2015, and while he played plenty of minutes last year upon joining the Chiefs, he hasn't had much of a look in this season.
Chiefs 28 (Damian McKenzie, Solomon Alaimalo, Michael Leitch tries; Damian McKenzie 2 con, 3 pen) Brumbies 10 (Nigel Ah Wong tries; Wharenui Hawera con, pen). HT: 13-10.