Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Chiefs open a new era

Tim Nanai-Williams scores last night's first try in the Super Rugby final.  Photo / Getty Images
Tim Nanai-Williams scores last night's first try in the Super Rugby final. Photo / Getty Images

Chiefs 37
Sharks 6

As sporting fairytales go, the Chiefs as 2012 Super Rugby champions is right up there. Their transformation from conference easy beats to title holders in the space of 12 months should really raise suspicion were it not for the fact they owe everything to hard work, commitment, bravery, simplicity and an enormous amount of creative talent from both players and coaching staff. Dave Rennie ... where have you been all the Chiefs' life?

They are worthy champions and probably more than that: they have the look of a side ready to build a dynasty. The foundations are rock solid.

Every part of their game has held up under the most intense scrutiny all season and especially last night.

"They are a great bunch," said Rennie. "They worked so hard and earned the respect. There was a lot of talk about how tough it was goinfg to be for them but we knew they would front. They were forced to make a lot of tackles in the first half and it took its toll in the second."

The Sharks, a million bad air miles in their legs, gave all they had and it never once looked like being enough.

There was always a sense of them doing what they could to hold on, rather than harbouring serious ambitions about winning. The visitors couldn't get their hands on the ball for any length of time and their kicking game wasn't good enough to tie the Chiefs down and keep them boxed into corners.

Resilience and adaptability have been key themes of the Chiefs' season so it was no surprise to see them to the fore last night. When the Sharks were able to be disruptive around the ruck fringes in the first half, the Chiefs came out in the second better equipped to deal with the pressure.

Worried about the Sharks' ability in the middle of the lineout, the Chiefs frequently threw low and flat to the front. They were always one step ahead.

It's tough to retain belief when the opposition are able to cope and adapt so effortlessly. It was also horribly tough on the Sharks that they had to pay for a split second of poor concentration. An attacking scrum for the Chiefs after a Craig Clarke chargedown raised a number of attacking possibilities.

The Sharks' back-row stayed attached to the scrum allowing Kane Thomson to pick up and scamper over the sticks.

That score shut the coffin lid and Lelia Masaga's intercept and runaway try on 60 minutes hammered the nails in. There was no way back for the Sharks from there - 27-6 down was a mountain they were never going to climb.

Even the sceptics - those who have sat through 16 years of underachievement and dismal failure, would have been able to see this was entirely different. This new version of the Chiefs is built from entirely different stuff to their predecessors and even before Masaga crossed, the Chiefs looked comfortable without always being convincing.

The scoreboard didn't rattle along at the pace everyone in Hamilton would have liked and yet nor did it feel that there was ever going to be any other outcome than a Chiefs' win.

The Chiefs, despite their inexperience and the heavy expectation - always a bad combination - didn't bother going through a nervous first 10 minutes. They skipped that bit and just got on with controlling possession and territory. There were issues in getting the ball away from the breakdown for most of the first half. Tawera Kerr-Barlow was left exposed too often and the Chiefs weren't able to flow and nor were they able to bring Sonny Bill Williams into the first half. The big man has been at his best this season bashing on to short passes and owning the gainline. The Sharks came off the line looking for him which is why the responsibility to take the ball forward and into space fell to the likes of Andrew Horrell and Robbie Robinson.

They didn't flinch and those two are precisely what the Chiefs have been all about this year: the previously ordinary becoming extraordinary. No one, other than the Chiefs, picked that Horrell could not only play at this level, but thrive. Robinson, an erratic and unconvincing footballer at the Highlanders, has been Mr Composure for the Chiefs.

He sucked up everything at the back and ran it forward, taking his side forward: always making sure that the big men didn't have to haul themselves back and begin to have doubts.

And that's the thing with the Chiefs now: the doubts have gone. They are the real deal. They are the future. They are the champions.

Chiefs 37 (T. Nanai-Williams, K. Thomson, L. Masaga, S. Williams tries; A. Cruden 3 pens, 4 cons) Sharks 6 (F. Michalak 2 pens).

- Herald on Sunday

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