Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Chiefs start the party

Chiefs players celebrate their Super Rugby victory last night. Photo / Getty Images
Chiefs players celebrate their Super Rugby victory last night. Photo / Getty Images

There have been feel-good Super Rugby finals and there have been fizzers.

The Crusaders' victory in Arctic conditions in Canberra back in 2000 was a beaut for perseverance, the Reds' result last year a triumph for their brand of rugby.

Others have fallen into the stock standard category, games which have carried all the tension of a competition conclusion but have lacked something extra.

The Waikato Stadium arena was ready last night in Hamilton for a bristling end to the tournament; would the Chiefs attend the party with champagne or flat beer?

There has been much to admire about the Sharks, not least their Marco Polo itineraries back and forth across the Southern Hemisphere as they dealt with the iniquities of the finals playoff system.

They had been in cracking form in the playoffs, removing last year's champion Reds and then the Stormers.

But that meant they had several flights just to reach the match venue let alone last 80 minutes of fury from the Chiefs.

There was anxiety for both sides though. Neither had won the title since the Super Rugby series poked its youthful nose into the professional era in 1996. This was their stage on which to make a statement, to take the silverware, the kudos and all the praise which would flow their way.

Both teams knew it, but the knots of uncertainty gripped them and they stuttered through their opening phases.

Chiefs forwards Sona Taumalolo and Brodie Retallick were both targeted for unnecessary infringements, and Liam Messam not long after, when they obstructed their rivals.

Tawera Kerr-Barlow was snagged round the base of the rucks and mauls because his team-mates did not do enough to protect him.

Around those bouts of indecision, there were glows coming to the Chiefs work.

They were kick-started by the departing Chief Sonny Bill Williams who made one of the busts we have now come to expect as standard.

He got through the first line of tacklers then breached the next before he made his offload.

The Sharks were in retreat and following several switches the defence broke allowing Tim Nanai-Williams through for a try. From there, the Chiefs opened their attacking repertoire even more, Cruden dinked crosskicks for his wing, Taumalolo tried his goosestep, Andrew Horrell clattered into defences and Robbie Robinson danced a jig from the back.

But it was the Chiefs warrior captain Craig Clarke who sent the Sharks into a terminal slide.

Clarke probably should not have played after straining knee ligaments in the semifinal victory over the Crusaders. But he was tough enough to ignore the pain and his team-mates were not about to wreck his second title shot.

The lock charged down Freddie Michalak's kick to force a five-metre scrum and from there the Chiefs scored their vital try. Talk about feel-good. Courageous captain conquers demons. It was all there and the 25,100 crowd felt extra-good about it too.

Finally, after 17 attempts the Chiefs had reached their rugby summit and Hamilton went into celebration overload.

- Herald on Sunday

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