Chiefs ready for final against 'phenomenal' Crusaders

rugby18 June 2023 05:24| © AFP
Clayton McMillan © Getty Images

Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan concedes the Crusaders are in "phenomenal" form but believes his side has good reason to take confidence into the Super Rugby Pacific final.

Next Saturday's all-New Zealand decider in Hamilton will pit the top-qualifying Chiefs against a Crusaders side who have bulldozed past their opponents in the knockout phase to set up a shot at a seventh successive title.

While the Chiefs have ground out tense playoff wins over two Australian opponents – the Reds and Brumbies – the second-ranked Crusaders have crushed both the Fijian Drua and Blues in Christchurch.

The Crusaders barely missed their eight injured All Blacks in a 52-15 mauling of the Blues on Friday.

"They were phenomenal. They really lifted a gear and made an outstanding Blues team look pretty ordinary," McMillan said.

"Even the most feverish Chiefs supporter had to sit back and applaud that performance because it was pretty unreal – they've certainly enhanced their game over the last six to eight weeks.

"The Crusaders have been the benchmark but if somebody's going to knock them off, I want it to be us."

In the Chiefs' favour is a long history of home advantage being a major factor in Super Rugby playoff games.

They are also at close to full strength while the Crusaders have been without a host of their best players all season, although the visitors are confident veteran All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock can shake off a leg injury and play the final.

Seeking their first title in a decade, the Chiefs have lost just once this year.

They accounted for the Crusaders twice during the regular season – 31-10 in round one in Christchurch and 34-24 in Hamilton seven weeks ago – to finish 11 points clear in the standings.

It took a late Brodie Retallick try to see off the stubborn Brumbies on Saturday but the tight nature of the 19-6 win – and a nine-point defeat of the Reds a week earlier – did not bother McMillan.

"It's irrelevant how big the scoreline is, if it goes down to the line next week then I think the last couple of weeks have been good preparation and will give us confidence," he said.

"We enter every game wanting to entertain and score lots of tries but history tells us semifinals and finals, they go down to the wire."

It will be the last game in charge for uber-successful Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, who will take the All Blacks' reins in 2024.

Crusaders fly-half Richie Mo'unga has been pivotal in their triumphant run of titles since 2017 and said emotion will be taken out of the equation when the 13-time champions head north.

"Rugby is pretty brutal, it doesn't favour fairy tale endings," the All Blacks playmaker told Sky Sports after the Blues were dispatched.

"It was crucial that we did a job, to be cold-blooded by any means necessary and execute.

"It's what we pride ourselves on as Crusaders. Finals footy, we enjoy it, and we want to walk towards all these challenges."