The Blues and Chiefs meet this Saturday in Super Rugby Aotearoa for a dead rubber in the overall standings of the competition.
At the beginning of the tournament, the Blues were riding high. They were deemed genuine title contenders to challenge the Crusaders’ monopoly. The Chiefs could not buy a win and equaled the longest losing streak in their club’s history.
Fast forward to the end of April and it’s the Chiefs who booked their spot in the grand final and the Blues’ season has been left in ruins with no substantive explanation for it once again.
The Blues had everything going for them at the start of the 2021 season. Even during a disrupted season last year, the players showcased just how far the Blues had come from being the perennial whipping boys for far too long.
The loss of identity and style of play within the playing group was now settled and reborn under head coach Leon MacDonald’s stewardship. Or so it seemed.
It was now the turn of the Chiefs to search for their identity as loss after loss followed and stretched into the 2021 season.
The dark clouds that had engulfed the Blues for so long seemed to have drifted to Chiefs country and settled.
Yet under the watchful eye of Clayton McMillan, the Chiefs rediscovered their identity, having showcased a resounding mental ability to win games in the clutch. The Hurricanes and Highlanders spring to mind.
That mentality reversal is what is most impressive about the job McMillan is doing in Hamilton. Losing becomes a habit, as does winning, and the Chiefs are the only team to truly and consistently stand up to the Crusaders this season and beat them, besides the anomaly of the Highlanders’ big win.
In the darkness, the Chiefs have managed to learn from their mistakes, errors, and poor execution by continuing to dig deep, trust their processes, and most importantly never lose faith in themselves. They were doing all the right things however slowly, but their belief in themselves never wavered.
All it took to start regaining that confidence was a gutsy win against this weekend’s same opponent in a game the Blues lost more than Chiefs won. This was the turning point for both clubs.
The Blues, on the other hand, are returning to their darkness as they seem unable to rectify their poor discipline and decision making. The hype bubble truly burst in their heavy defeat at home against the Crusaders in late March.
However, their true litmus test came against the Chiefs the following weekend. The Blues were looking for a response to re-establish their title credentials and they did everything they could to not win the game, as if conspiring against themselves.
After this loss, the seeds of doubt and darkness began to seep into the back of the minds of the Blues’ players and only grew darker as their campaign fell apart like the Hindenburg.
The Chiefs have conceded they will keep their best players for the grand final next weekend and the Blues will want to finish their own poor campaign with some form of confidence, which could be used for next year’s campaign.
And while the crossover tournament with the Australian Super Rugby clubs will be refreshing later next month and offer a different speed and style of play for fans, you can be sure that the grand final will come down to the Chiefs and Crusaders again.