Where oh where were the Sharks? They were supposed to take on the Chiefs up front and destroy their attacking platform. It never materialised. The Chiefs ran them ragged for all but the opening exchanges, their defence proving as terrorising as their attack.
Wayne Smith must take much of the credit, officially the backs coach for Chiefs, it has become known in recent weeks that he is controlling most of the attack and defence. Today we saw the best of both of those aspects of the game, with Cruden pulling the strings in attack moving the Chiefs all over the pitch, looking to run and pass first, kick second. The defence though was spectacular, the line speed was a credit to Smith, and Sharks fly half Freddie Michalak had no time or space to show his attack flair and use his talented outside backs.
The expected onslaught from the Sharks pack never really came, the team were under such pressure from the Chiefs defence that they were always on the back foot, never able to exert their physical dominance.
The Chiefs can now say that they are the best team in Super Rugby, but perhaps even more importantly to them, they can say they are the best team in New Zealand. For so long the Crusaders have dominated New Zealand rugby, but this feels like a changing of the guard with Aaron Cruden leading the way aided by the likes of Messam, Latimer and Cane.
However one man who has helped lead the Chiefs to this seasons heights was playing his last game for the Chiefs today. With a few trademark offloads and a storming try, Sonny Bill Williams now waves goodbye to the Chiefs and to the All Blacks. The man has been sensational for them and how they cope with his loss will be the making of this young side.
His sensational power and ability to offload forces opposition defences to swarm around him, allowing the Chiefs to implement their impressive attack around the space that this leaves. Will they be able to attack with such pace and flair when he leaves? Only time will tell, but certainly defences will be up harder and faster on Cruden now, trying to limit his options.
The Sharks on the other hand must be wondering what they have to do to win this competition, after heartbreak in 2007 and now near humiliation today, can they do it again? The quality in their side says yes, but there is beginning to be a sense that maybe this is a mental problem not a quality problem. They have World Cup winners in their side though, and if any team is equipped to overcome such frailties, they are.
For the Chiefs, the only question is can they build on this a dominate like the Crusaders and the Blues before them? As far as this writer is concerned, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to. They have the players, the coaches and the mentality, they also have the age. These guys are young and will only get better, for everyone else – beware.