Rugby Union

Chiefs 37 Sharks 6

Unlikely lads follow script to a victorious finale

LET the dreaded cowbells ring long and loud throughout the country; may the Waikato Draught flow for days.

New Zealand has a new Super Rugby champion team, from a third region and its first for four years. The Chiefs have broken the drought. And there have been none more deserving than this bunch of unlikely, largely unheralded, driven men.

It started with Dave Rennie's vision and a radical cleanout. Thirteen new faces arrived for a clean slate. And with the most complete coaching quartet, the Chiefs formed a brotherhood to mould a masterpiece that was completed last night in Hamilton with an emphatic 37-6 victory shut-out of the heavily jet-lagged Sharks.

Celebrations will spread from Counties Manukau to the Bay of Plenty and down to Taupo. The Chiefs first title is one very few envisioned them earning this season. All the more reason for a party.

What a transformation it has been. From 10th last year – a season of just six wins and 10 losses – the perennial underachievers have become New Zealand's most consistent side, recording a franchise record nine-match unbeaten run.


Credit must go first to Rennie. So often in sport, players are lavished with accolades and coaches cop the flack. The former teacher and publican formed a team of challenging rugby minds that complemented his skills to perfection. Even without injured All Black Richard Kahui, Rennie's back line was superb.

Wayne Smith masterminded the brick-wall defensive structures. The professor's overwhelming experience helped implement a calm finals attitude after two stumbles to end the regular season.

The underrated Tom Coventry hand-picked his forward pack based on work ethic and hunger. And, boy, did that pay dividends. Who knew Ben Tameifuna or Brodie Retallick before this season? The Chiefs tight-five were a revelation. For that, Coventry must take a bow.

Andrew Strawbridge's skills focus completed the four-pronged clipboard success.

The Sharks can't go without a mention. While they were totally outplayed from start to finish last night that, to a degree, was expected.

The competition format did them over. Travelling from Durban to Brisbane to Cape Town to Sydney to Hamilton was madness. No team could hope to overcome that exhausting schedule. Having knocked over the best Australia and South Africa had thrown at them, New Zealand was one hurdle too much.

Every one of the Chiefs were on the same page in last night's finale. As he has done all season, Aaron Cruden led from the front with a masterclass kicking display – and Robbie Robinson's contribution wasn't far behind.

In the wet, greasy conditions, the Chiefs used the dual attacking boots of Robinson and Cruden to pepper the Sharks back three.

Tim Nanai-Williams, Kane Thompson, Lelia Masaga and, of course, Sonny Bill Williams, sealed the result with memorable tries.

If anything summed up the Chiefs' attitude, it was SBW's crowd-surfing hug at the finish. He might be leaving these shores for the Japanese yen and a return to the NRL, but this triumph is one he will never forget.

Chiefs 37 (Tim Nanai-Williams, Kane Thompson, Lelia Masaga, Sonny Bill Williams tries; Aaron Cruden 4 conversions, 3 penalty goals) Sharks 6 (Frederic Michalak 2 penalty goals). Halftime: 13-3 Chiefs.