It really isn’t a bad time to be a kiwi sports fan right now.
The Chiefs have won the Super 15 title in Hamilton tonight with an inspired second half performance on a dream weekend for New Zealand sports.
Liam Messam and Craig Clarke lift the trophy after beating the Sharks 37-6 in Hamilton tonight. Photos by Tracy Hardy.
Twenty-four hours after the New Zealand rowers took the world by storm at the London Olympics, the Chiefs, so impressive before stalling late in the regular season, won their debut title in fine fashion.
Add that to the Breakers’ twin triumphs in the Australian basketball league, world crowns in rugby league and rugby union, and the prospect of a test victory against the West Indies in the coming days, and you start to form the impression of a freakish island nation churning out more than its fair share of champions.
The Chiefs made it look routine.
The Sharks opened the scoring in the seventh minute with a penalty from out in front to Frederic Michalak, but barely looked like challenging the scorers from there.
Both teams were keen to move the ball in greasy conditions, and that, combined with the physicality they brought, meant the early action was stilted at times.
The visitors rushed up on Sonny Bill Williams at every opportunity in an attempt to break down the home side’s outside backs – and it worked – for a while. Several times Sharks players arrived in unison along with the ball to leave the Japan-bound midfielder with no option other than to take the tackle.
At first, the Chiefs reverted largely to kicking for possession and position, until Tim Nanai-Williams opened the New Zealand side’s account after 20 minutes after a sweeping backline movement sparked by a left-footed Aaron Cruden chip.
Cruden, further advancing his All Blacks prospects with another composed performance, converted from wide out and added a penalty goal from a similar angle to make it 10-3 after 25 minutes.
That lead grew to 13-3 at the break and extended to 20-3 soon after the resumption after a Craig Clarke charge down led to Kane Thompson charging over from the base of the scrum from short range.
A scorching run down the right hand side by Leila Masaga for a try broke the game open in the second half, with the Chiefs stretching their advantage to 30-6 thanks to some more accurate place kicking from Cruden.
The departing Williams went out on top – of his game and the crowd barrier - after dotting down under the bin in the dying stages to make it 37-6.
The crowd embraced him in the trademark moment of the final, safe in the knowledge its side had broken its Super rugby drought.
The Sharks can be forgiven for fading so badly – consecutive trips abroad for knock-out fixtures in the last three weeks clearly stripped them of the edge they have displayed all season.
So, the first title for the North Island franchise and the final domestic game for Williams in New Zealand – for now.