And then there were two … and neither of them are the teams I expected. After excellent victories last week in their respective finals, the Super Rugby finale pits last year’s champions, the Chiefs, against the Australian conference champions, the Brumbies in Hamilton.
It is hard to get a statistical guide on this game because the last time these two teams met was in March 2012. That’s right: they did not face each other this year. Overall though the statistics come out this way:
The Brumbies have the historical advantage across all fixtures having won 11 of the 18 matches overall between the teams since the start of Super Rugby.
The Chiefs have the short term advantage in that they have won 3 of the last 5 fixtures and have won the last two times these two teams faced off in Hamilton.
Before the last two games though in Hamilton, the Brumbies have owned the Chiefs at that venue having won four in a row proceeding the most recent streak.
These two teams are, in my opinion, the best coached teams in Super Rugby. The Brumbies are coached by Jake White and the Chiefs by Dave Rennie and possibly the biggest battle between the two teams will be the battle of tactics in the coach’s box. White is a former South African coach who many consider unlucky to be not the next Wallabies coach and Rennie is an All Blacks coach of the future. Rennie will be hoping for a better night than in the same fixture (the grand final) last year when his house was robbed whilst the game was being played.
The Chiefs have defied many of the pundits this year and have continued with their form of last year despite the loss of some key starters from last year. They have the benefit in this game of not having head to travel during the finals and are playing at their home ground where they have won 8 of 9 games this season. They have named an unchanged lineup for this game.
The Brumbies, because they finished 3rd on the table had to travel last week to Pretoria and won their semi final against the Bulls in what can only be described as any epic performance. They have, since that game, travelled back from Pretoria to Canberra via Sydney and then onto Hamilton which can only be described as a long round trip all for a game of football. They have also named an unchanged lineup for this game.
There are some massive, and vitally important, one on one contests in this game: the winner of which will push their team a long way to lifting the Super Rugby trophy. Cruden v Toomua is a battle of two test number 10s in waiting. Outside them there are the contrasting styles of Andrew Horrell and Christian Lealiifano. At the back the contest between the steady and assured Gareth Anscombe and the Chris Latham clone Jess Mogg could determine the field position battle. Liam Messam v George Smith on the side of the scrum will be a battle royal between two of the most experience flankers in the game.
All of those contests mixed in with one of the most parochial home crowds in rugby in the bell ringer, chain saw revving fans in Hamilton makes this one of the more eagerly anticipated finals in some time for mine. The Chiefs will be strong favourites to repeat the history of last year when they defeated the travel weary Sharks to win the title. The Brumbies will be the underdogs which is a status they appear to rejoice in more than any other team in the competition.
I have been looking at this game for a week now and every time I leave it for a while and then come back to it I come up with a different result. On the one hand I can see the Brumbies proving the critics wrong one more time to return to the winner circle again for the first time since the Gregan / Larkham era. On the other I can see the Chiefs who bested the form side in the competition on their home track, in front of their home fans repeating the performance of last year and winning the trophy back to back.
Ultimately, I have come down in favour of the Chiefs wining this one and retaining their title in what will be tight and epic encounter that will have rugby fans in the Southern Hemisphere glued to their seats, bar stools and beanbags wherever it is that they are watching.
Final Word: Chiefs by 6