We take a look at the best ever teams to have graced the sport from years gone by and today we delve into the Chiefs side that claimed successive Super Rugby titles.
Play-off appearances were often a rare occurrence for the Waikato-based outfit prior to 2009. Just once, in 2004, had they reached the latter stages, but at the end of the 2000s they reached the final, only to be embarrassed by the Bulls.
That 61-17 shellacking at the hands of the South African outfit rather set them back and, then under the stewardship of current All Blacks head coach Ian Foster, they never recovered. Poor seasons in 2010 and ’11 saw the end of Foster but in came Dave Rennie, who had masterminded New Zealand’s U20 success as they claimed three successive Junior World Championship titles between 2008 and ’10.
Although he had never been head honcho at Super Rugby level, Rennie adapted quickly and became the first rookie boss to lift the prize. He then repeated the triumph a year later as the underachieving franchise finally fulfilled their potential by taking home the trophy for a second consecutive season.
The Chiefs continued to challenge in the latter stages of the competition in the following years, a far cry from their efforts in the opening decade of the tournament, but they never quite matched what they achieved in 2012 and ’13.
What made them great
The Chiefs had a sparkling backline which could rip any team apart and a savvy coaching team that got the best out of them. While the half-backs were good all-round players, they were particularly superb runners and Dave Rennie created the best counter-attacking side in the league.
This outfit thrived off broken field, scoring some stunning tries, while they also had the power in the close quarters to suck in defenders and open space in phase play.
Their front-row in particular was a much-improved unit. They had never previously been renowned for their forward excellence but there was enough quality and set-piece nous to get them by in the tight, leaving their powerful carriers, especially in the front five, to create holes in the opposition rearguard.
Rennie’s men had the ideal attacking blend, combining the pace of their back three with the power of their midfield and front five, but they were also solid defensively. Although the Chiefs didn’t necessarily have a destructive player in the back-row, they were an absolute nuisance at the breakdown and could slow opposition ball down.
All the magic happened behind the scrum so it is easy to start with the playmaking axis which inspired their title triumphs. New Zealand age-grade star Aaron Cruden had been signed prior to the 2012 season from the Hurricanes and he proved to be the cog that got the machine moving.
Dangerous from counter-attack and a box of tricks off phase play, Cruden was at the peak of his powers over those two seasons. Aided by fellow half-back Tawera Kerr-Barlow and the brilliant Sonny Bill Williams who also joined in ’12, they formed the spine of the team.
It gave the rest of the side freedom. Sparkling wings Tim Nanai-Williams and Lelia Masaga never quite became the players some expected them to be, especially at international level, but they were utterly devastating in a Chiefs shirt.
Up front, loosehead Sona Taumalolo was a try-scoring machine, touching down a remarkable nine times during the 2012 campaign, while Ben Tameifuna was an outstanding prospect at tighthead, adding power in both the loose and tight.
Behind them in the second-row was someone by the name of Brodie Retallick. The young lock had impressed in the 2011 Junior World Championship and quickly established himself in the Chiefs side a year later, forming a superb partnership with captain Craig Clarke.
Their excellent pack was completed by a mobile back-row that were effective at the contact area, whether it was Liam Messam, Sam Cane or the underrated Tanerau Latimer.
Haka de despedida de los compañeros de Chiefs a Aaron Cruden, de los últimos jugadores que quedan en el equipo de los Chiefs campeones de 2012 y 2013 del @SuperRugbyNZ. Sam Cane es el último de ese superequipo. pic.twitter.com/s21ejRi1hl
— Blog de Rugby (@Blogderugby) August 3, 2020
Their destruction of the Sharks in the 2012 showpiece event was imperious, but the Durban-based outfit were hampered by the travel factor, having gone from Australia to South Africa and then to New Zealand over consecutive weeks.
It was unfortunate for John Plumtree’s men but was just reward for the Chiefs, who did the hard yards to top their conference and then beat the great Crusaders in the last-four. That was their defining match as they overcame the seven-time champions to move one step closer to their first ever title.
Dave Rennie’s charges had been stunned by the Christchurch-based side in Round 17 after the visitors went away with a 28-21 triumph. They were coming into form at just the right time and were a significant threat going into the semi-final contest, but the hosts did enough in a thrilling encounter to hold off Super Rugby’s most successful team.
The Chiefs were excellent in the opening period, touching down twice via Taumalolo and Messam to lead 17-6, but Ryan Crotty hit back on the stroke of half-time to reduce the arrears for the ‘Saders.
As the tension increased in the second half, so did the intensity, and it was a hugely physical effort after the break. In the end, the home side showed their class and composure to deservedly hold on for a 20-17 victory and reach their second final.