Top New Zealand side the Waikato Chiefs capped an exceptional year to be crowned this year’s Super 15 champions yesterday when they beat the Coastal Sharks 37-6 in a one-sided final.
The Chiefs were more clinical and made fewer errors than the Sharks on a wet Hamilton night, running up a 13-3 lead by halftime and outscoring the South Africans four tries to nil.
They become only the sixth different side to win the crown in the 17-year history of the tough championship, which features the best from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, the three top-ranked nations in the world.
The Chiefs, with only a handful of experienced players in their squad, were largely written off at the start of the season, but proved the pundits wrong by winning the New Zealand conference and finishing second on the table.
They started the final as the fresher side, having had the luxury of being at home for the past three weeks, while the Sharks had an arduous travel schedule, and it showed as they ran away with the game.
The Sharks did enjoy the better of the opening exchanges after a J.P. Pietersen kick drilled the Chiefs into the corner and Ryan Kankowski stole the lineout.
However, their only reward was a sole penalty by Frederic Michalak before the Chiefs began to work their way into the game with superior forward power and a more accurate kicking game.
A 10-minute period of relentlessly testing the Sharks’ defense ended when the Chiefs recovered an Aaron Cruden chip-kick and a Sonny Bill Williams’ break led to Tim Nanai-Williams scoring wide out.
Cruden landed the conversion and two penalties after the Du Plessis brothers, Jannie and Bismarck, both infringed to have the Chiefs ahead 13-3 at halftime.
Chiefs hooker and Samoan international Mahonri Schwalger put his side in command at the start of the second half when he stole the kick-off from the Sharks forwards.
From an attacking scrum, backrower Kane Thompson was able to pick up the ball and run through a huge gap to score the Chiefs’ second try.
Replacement wing Lelia Masaga put the match firmly in the Chiefs’ grasp with 20 minutes remaining when he snapped up a misdirected Keegan Daniel pass and raced 50m to the line, stepping deftly around Patrick Lambie on the way.
Cruden landed the conversion and a further penalty before Sonny Bill Williams, in his final match for the Chiefs, capped off the scoring with a try in the closing minutes, which he followed with a celebratory dive into the crowd.
Other winners of the Super championship are the Canterbury Crusaders (seven titles), Northern Bulls (three), Auckland Blues (three), ACT Brumbies (two), and Queensland Reds (one).