Chiefs off to flying Super Rugby start
The best coaches have an almost mystical quality.
They can get results out of players who were mired in mediocrity and inspire others to achieve greatness.
What’s more the players want to be part of an environment where the coach has the ability to change team culture, team expectations and team performance.
One of rugby’s top coaches is former Wales and British and Irish Lions mentor Warren Gatland who has returned to his beloved Waikato to take charge of the Chiefs this season.
As if written by a Super Rugby script writer, the Chiefs have started the season by beating the Blues at Eden Park and last Saturday knocking over defending champions the Crusaders in Hamilton to ignite their 2020 campaign.
Gatland is the latest in a long line of head coaches at the Chiefs.
Ian Foster was head coach from 2004 to 2011 which by any stretch of the imagination was far too long as the Chiefs made just one losing final and one other semi.
From 2012 to 2017 Dave Rennie changed the culture at the Chiefs from battlers to contenders. The Chiefs won the title the first two years he was in charge and have not missed the play-offs since.
It is early in the 2020 campaign but already Gatland’s influence is evident.
In both games the Chiefs trailed at halftime but fought back in dominant style to win. Sticking to the game plan and having the most difficult defensive patterns to break down are Gatland traits.
The world champion Springboks have achieved so much success in the last 18 months using a similar defensive system.
Gatland has the mercurial Aaron Cruden back after spells in France and Japan which frees up Damian McKenzie to cut loose from fullback. Anton Lienert-Brown is a class act in the centres and will be the best Kiwi midfielder of his generation.
The influence of a now fit again Sam Cane must not be forgotten. The Chiefs captain and heir apparent for the All Blacks job missed the last Super Rugby season recovering from a broken neck.
Another ex-Tauranga Boys’ First XV player Aidan Ross is playing the best rugby of his life and could well be an All Black by the end of the year. The burly loosehead prop gets none of the attention of the pretty backs or loose forwards.
But his scrummaging skills are as good as any in the competition with no tighthead prop getting a clear advantage over him. He showed his leadership skills guiding Bay of Plenty to the Mitre 10 Cup Championship title last year.
Enjoy watching the Chiefs. This could be their year.