James Mortimer 14.Jul.2013Getty Images
Two losses to the Crusaders and Hurricanes at the end of last year’s regular season didn’t stop the Chiefs from beating the Crusaders and Sharks en route to the title, and to be fair even had they crossed another top six team likes the Bulls, Reds or Stormers, one couldn’t imagine any of those three stopping what was a record breaking season for Dave Rennie and his troops, with pretty much every franchise record broken.
This year, while achieving exalted top status for the first time, and while a few numbers, such as tries and points scored, have improved – more than one has dropped for the men from Hamilton.
Most notably their defence, raved about for most of last season, has dropped to the tune of letting in an extra eight tries so far this year.
To have their attack technically functioning with record efficiency is some feat considering early predictions offence would suffer without Sonny Bill Williams, the strengthening of their defensive screen will be something top of the agenda as the Chiefs look to go from maiden winners to planting the seeds of a dynasty.
But first, the Chiefs have to stop two teams who will present, without any disrespect to last season’s finalists, far more of a challenge in 2013.
The Bulls, Brumbies, Reds and Cheetahs all by numbers alone have performed better in comparison to last year, with all three being a considerable notch above their vintages this time last season, while the Crusaders haven’t looked quite this sharp since, well maybe 2008, the last time they won the whole thing.
Excitingly for Super Rugby fans, by pure numbers it is a far more formidable line up in the final six than last season.
The Chiefs know well, as it is with all champions, that they are the marked team, a status enhanced by finishing top of the log. They will be challenged with more ferocity this final’s campaign, but they are better placed with a potential home run to the decider to stand firm to deliver the faithful back-to-back titles.