Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Family and friends big part of Chiefs' motivation

Champions inspired by image of `pa' with photos of people close to players.

The Chiefs didn't have to look far for motivation before and during their epic final with the Brumbies.

As a device to concentrate their minds during the week, the Chiefs coaches had a Maori pa drawn on a wall at their Ruakura base. Inside the sketched village were attached photos of the players' families and friends - a powerful reminder of where they have come from and whom they were playing for.

A copy was made and taken to their Waikato Stadium changing room on Saturday night. It was one of the last things they saw as they ran out onto the field and, given they were behind 16-9 at the break, they needed every advantage they could get, mental or otherwise, when they took to the pitch for the second half.

"It's all related to a lot of themeing that we've done this year," coach Dave Rennie said yesterday of the drawing, something that clearly struck a chord with his players.

"The boys had to bring photos of things that are important to them. Predominantly it was pictures of their wives and kids and parents - that was all put in there."

The Chiefs needed assistance because they were in a bit of trouble more than once against the Brumbies in a match that developed into a memorable and worthy final. Twice they fought back from deficits - from 9-0 down and then 19-9 down - and that's something they haven't been able to do well this season.

During the regular season they lost four matches and were behind at halftime in all four. They broke the mould in their first playoff game against the Crusaders when rallying from a 9-3 halftime deficit to triumph 20-19 and did it again a week later to claim a consecutive championship.

"It tells you a lot about the character in this group," Rennie said. "They keep fighting, they hang in there. We were pretty clinical late in the game."

The heroes for the Chiefs were their forwards Liam Messam, Craig Clarke and Ben Tameifuna, plus replacements Bundee Aki, Augustine Pulu and Robbie Robinson, with Rennie and Brumbies coach Jake White agreeing the home side's substitutes were the difference.

The celebrations continued long into the night at their Ruakura headquarters, a place that has quickly become a spiritual home and perhaps one of the keys to their success.

No other franchise in New Zealand has what they have there on the outskirts of Hamilton - such a large space in which they can put down their own marker. The pa illustration is just the latest addition. The serious work of knocking down walls began early last year - there was nothing contrived in that team-building exercise.

Perhaps not surprisingly given what we've learned about the culture, that Rennie, Wayne Smith, Tom Coventry and co are building, family and friends joined the celebrations.

"There's a lot of people who had come into town ... It made the night even more special, the fact that the people who are most important to us were there to share the occasion," Rennie said.

- APNZ

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