Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Team can thank dedicated helpers

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie. Photo / Getty Images
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie. Photo / Getty Images

When the Chiefs began their professional rugby life 17 seasons ago, Don Shergold was the chief executive.

He is still with the franchise in his assistant manager's role, picking up bags, doing errands and making sure all the details are covered so the team can perform.

Those selfless acts of devotion met in Hamilton harmony on Saturday when the Chiefs collected their first title and became just the sixth side in tournament history to walk into the winner's circle.

Many people like Shergold have worked their tails off to find the recipe for the Chiefs' success, with the shopfront talent of the players augmented by a gifted hard-working coaching group and support staff.

Captain Craig Clarke set the tone for the Chiefs' golden hurrah, ignoring a knee injury which was supposed to be a six week stand down and playing the full 80 minutes.

Week-long treatments of ice, heatbags, tape and an iron-will got Clarke into his No 4 jersey and ultimately his courage and adrenaline got him on to the stage to collect the trophy.

An hour after the whistle he still hadn't been near the changing room, as the team mingled with their families, friends and fans on their triumphal night.

"Everyone stuck round and the boys enjoy our crowd and love being part of it," Clarke said.

Throughout the post-mortems and appraisals, the theme of hard work kept thumping through in messages from the Chiefs.

Coach Dave Rennie and some of his men who had guided the campaign missed out on personal rewards because they wanted all 33 players who had been involved in the roster to receive the public kudos.

"There weren't enough trophies for all of us but we can get ones at other times," he explained. "It's not about the coaches, it's about the boys."

Rennie has not been wrong often this season but that summary was not quite on the mark as Saturday night was about everyone in the group.

The Chiefs had been selected, managed, coached and drilled with the right balance of instruction, humour and improvisation.

They played with conviction and courage, they tightened their game a shade for the sudden-death contest in the greasy conditions. This was their one shot at the title which had eluded the Chiefs since Brad Meurant, his players and Shergold started life way back in 1996.

Outstanding players such as Ian Jones, Frank Bunce, Walter Little, Jonah Lomu, Byron Kelleher, Jono Gibbes, Royce Willis, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Mils Muliaina wore the jersey but never gelled enough for the title.

Now they have Richard Kahui, Sonny Bill Williams, Aaron Cruden, Liam Messam, Sam Cane, Tanerau Latimer, Brodie Retallick and Ben Tameifuna who have been more than jottings in the notebooks of the All Black selectors.

They are the headline names in a group which, as Rennie said, had earned the respect of the coaching group, the community and the 25,1000 at Waikato Stadium to watch them triumph 37-6 against the Sharks.

"I suppose it started from a selection point of view and I think we got it right," he said.

"We targeted a whole lot of hard-working honest buggers who would put it out on the park for us week after week and mixed in with some of the guys who were here like Weka, Liam and Lats (Clarke, Messam and Latimer).

"Those guys have done a fantastic job in terms of leadership of this group and that has really made a difference. They have been a lot of fun to work with and it is just fantastic to get a result."

- NZ Herald

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