Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: The Chiefs' formula for success

Defending champions have put in the hard yards and have shown they are ready to grab consecutive titles.

Gareth Anscombe has played well at fullback and has been a goalkicking genius when covering for Cruden. Photo / Getty Images
Gareth Anscombe has played well at fullback and has been a goalkicking genius when covering for Cruden. Photo / Getty Images

Getting success out of a team is hard to achieve and harder to quantify. Moulding a disparate group of about 30 individuals is a daily project which in the modern Super Rugby season starts in February and ends in August. There are constant ups and downs but once again the Chiefs have coped better than any other franchise. They finished first after the regular season and now stand on the brink of a consecutive title.
Here are six things they have done right:

Getting the best out of their players
No Sonny Bill Williams, no Richard Kahui (following his shoulder injury), no early-season goalkicking for Aaron Cruden due to a groin problem, no worries. The Chiefs' coaches merely got more out of the players they had. Bundee Aki made the step up to this level with ease - all the while wearing the No12 jersey vacated by the incomparable Williams. Fellow midfielder Charlie Ngatai was a new recruit and has done everything asked of him. Tim Nanai-Williams, dogged by a groin problem, switched to centre and was outstanding before his injury finally ended his season. Blues reject Gareth Anscombe played well at fullback and was a goalkicking genius when covering for Cruden.

Matt Vant Leven, a wider training group player, has been brilliant at No8. The Chiefs are the new Crusaders in terms of developing players.

It's all in the detail
Chiefs skipper Craig Clarke reckons Dave Rennie never sleeps, such is the work the head coach puts in. Wayne Smith is another who sets a fearsome work ethic. All the Chiefs' coaches put in long hours and none of it is wasted. Want an example? How about the way they discovered the Crusaders' exit plays aren't as efficient as they could be? The result in the first clash between the two teams in Hamilton was two charged down clearances (including one by Dan Carter) for two tries. In a match which finished 28-19, that was the difference. The Chiefs were monstered by the Crusaders' forwards in the return encounter, but while the different attitude in the weekend's semifinal was crucial, so were the tactics. They decided to go a bit wider with their attack and it worked.

It's them against us
A siege mentality can be a highly effective motivation tool. Look at the way Sir Alex Ferguson fostered a "no one likes us motto" at Manchester United during his tenure there, despite the fact that they were one of the most successful and popular football clubs around. During the latter part of this season the Chiefs showed irritation at not being rated by the media. They felt it was all about the Crusaders despite the fact the Chiefs were the defending champions and travelling pretty well, too.

A stubborn streak
The All Blacks selectors felt Sam Cane was the best No7 in the country behind Richie McCaw; the Chiefs coaches thought he was pretty good too but stuck with Tanerau Latimer all the same. Rennie has said that in Cane and Latimer he has the two best openside flankers in New Zealand. Latimer played all but a few minutes of the recent semifinal victory despite not being able to train the previous fortnight due to a deep bruise on his calf.

Don't panic
In April the Chiefs lost consecutive matches to the Reds and Waratahs. Then they ran up two large leads against both the Sharks and Rebels only to see the opposition come close to winning. They lost heavily to the Crusaders in Christchurch, a potentially large mental hurdle so close to the playoffs. At no time did the coaches panic. There were selection changes, sure, but they were made with surgical precision, with scientific evidence to back them up. They put faith in their players and processes and it all paid off.

Making a point
Dave Rennie's response to the justifications of the forward pass rule by Sanzar referees boss Lyndon Bray following a couple of dodgy decisions in the Rebels win made not only good newspaper copy but good sense. Scott Higginbotham's try followed a pass which travelled forward by two metres. Fine, according to the law, said Bray. Not so, said Rennie. "If that's not a forward pass then we'll start getting guys 10m down the track and we'll start throwing it to them. That's just ludicrous."

That sort of forthright attitude has to be a positive.

- APNZ

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