Chiefs, Brumbies set for Super Rugby final
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Chiefs will try to win the Super Rugby title for the second-straight season and the ACT Brumbies for the first time in nine years in a final on Saturday which brings together two of the tournament’s low-key achievers.
In order to reach the championship match the Chiefs and Brumbies had to beat the competition’s two most successful teams in semifinals: the Chiefs edged the seven-time champion Crusaders 20-19 and the Brumbies finished over the top of the three-time champion Bulls 26-23.
Both now have the chance to establish themselves more firmly among the best teams in the southern hemisphere tournament. The Brumbies can join the Bulls as winners of three Super Rugby titles. The Chiefs can join the Crusaders, Bulls, Brumbies and Auckland Blues as multiple winners.
The success of the Chiefs this season has brought the tournament final to the modest 25,000-seat Waikato Stadium in their home town of Hamilton about 12 months after they sealed the 2012 title there. Tickets sold out more quickly than for last year’s final when, after their most successful season, the Chiefs beat the Durban-based Sharks 36-7 to win the title for the first time in 17 years.
Dave Rennie, helped by former All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith, guided the Chiefs to their inaugural title in his first year as their head coach and now hopes to have them emulate the Blues, Bulls and Crusaders by winning back-to-back championships. He said the experience from last year was already an advantage.
“What we did learn was that you’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing, rather than build up all the pressure on yourselves,” Rennie said. “But we know that we’ve got a high-quality opposition and we need to be at our best again.”
Because of the construction of the tournament draw, the Chiefs and Brumbies haven’t met this year. They last faced each other in the fourth round of the 2012 season when the Chiefs, at home, won 29-22.
For that reason, their respective form is hard to measure other than by statistical comparison: the Chiefs won 12 of their 16 regular season matches to finish in first place while the Brumbies won 10 of 16 and finished third. The Chiefs scored 458 points in those 16 matches and conceded 364 while the Brumbies scored 430 but conceded only 295, the second-best defensive record in the tournament.
The Brumbies’ Christian Lealiifano was the third-highest points-scorer in the regular season with 183 while Chiefs fullback Gareth Anscombe was fifth-highest with 166, though he missed matches with injury and shared the kicking duties late in the season with Aaron Cruden.
Brumbies winger Henry Speight was among the season’s leading try-scorers with eight while the Chiefs had no players among the top-10 try-scorers, though they scored more tries overall than the Brumbies.
The final promises a style clash between the Chiefs, who are generally adventurous, and the Brumbies, who are more conservative. Rennie has developed a talented backline which hinges on All Blacks flyhalf Cruden, who may be the key figure in Saturday’s match, and which stressed in last weekend’s semifinal an ability to score tries from minimal possession.
The Brumbies have the solid and clinical look of any team shaped by former Springboks coach Jake White. Their set pieces are sound and their scrum, based on last week’s performance against the Bulls, can also be destructive. They have talented backs but they are a team that sets out to score through simple territorial occupation.
If anything tilts the match in favor of the Chiefs it may be their home advantage, again. The Brumbies, in contrast, have faced a taxing travel schedule, flying to Pretoria for last weekend’s match against the Bulls then returning to reach Hamilton by Wednesday.
White will not make than an excuse for his team’s performance on Saturday.
“A lot of these finals, you can carry yourself on a bit of adrenaline,” White said. “I’ve no doubt that, whatever I say, they will be up for it this weekend. It’s finals rugby and it’s fantastic.
“We’re not making excuses. It’s just the way the competition has panned out. We’ve managed to get a couple of wins that people haven’t given us a chance in so who knows, this might be another one.”
White said his players had prepared themselves for Saturday’s match as meticulously as always and despite the travel burden.
“Literally straight after the Bulls game they went straight to bed and got themselves into Australian time,” he said. “Obviously my challenge now is to make sure I keep them mentally fresh.”
The Chiefs have also sought stability this week. Their home advantage is substantial and the streets and shops of Hamilton have been decked out this week in the black, red and gold Chiefs colors.
For the first time this season, when the Chiefs have labored under the pressure of injuries to players such as centers Richard Kahui and Tim Nanai-Williams, Rennie has been able to name an unchanged team. He said this was not the time to tinker with selections.
“Sometimes we’ve made changes because we’ve had some positions that were very tight and we’ve wanted to create competition,” he said. “Other times it’s been because of injuries.
“A lot of it’s about competition and by giving guys a crack you create depth. They push each other and help each other, but they’re really competitive.”