The longest season in Super Rugby history comes to an exciting conclusion this weekend, with the Super Rugby Final between the Chiefs and Sharks guaranteed to provide a new champion.
The New Zealand Conference champion Chiefs and the sixth placed overall wildcard qualifier Sharks, the last two franchises standing, will offer a wonderful encounter considering their different paths to the final match of the 2012 season.
The Chiefs, courtesy of their standing as a top-two regular season finisher, had a break during the Super Rugby Qualifiers, but then had to account for the Crusaders in the Semi-Final, with a 20-17.
This came after an outstanding regular season where the Chiefs finished with a New Zealand record regular season ledger of 12 wins from 16 matches, while establishing a franchise record nine straight wins and a franchise record six straight home wins - although question marks were raised when they slumped to back-to-back defeats to the Crusaders and Hurricanes to close out their campaign.
The Chiefs also haven’t travelled overseas since facing the Reds back in early May.
The Sharks have had to do it the hard way, having to mount an incredible late season finish to qualify for the Super Rugby Finals Series, winning six of their last seven matches, with their only blemish being against the Lions - a result that cost the Sharks a South African clean sweep towards the end of the regular season.
Celebrations in Durban in reaching the Super Rugby Finals Series were tempered by the long haul to face the Reds in Brisbane, and even that victory over the defending champions merely booked another long flight to battle the Stormers in Cape Town.
While the Crusaders may have set Super Rugby’s travelling record last season due to the Christchurch earthquake, the Sharks are looking at breaking the Super Rugby Finals Series travelling ledger, with their trip clocking over 30,000km so far.
At least the Sharks had six of their last eight regular season matches in Durban, although that late run of home comfort must seem a distant memory for the South Africans.
This Super Rugby Final, the Sharks first since 2007, also represents the first time since that season that the decider has featured two combatants still to win the championship.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie and Sharks coach John Plumtree have both said that history doesn’t count for much coming into this match, but the fifteen clashes between the two sides represent a colourful rivalry.
The Chiefs have won the last three matches, a run that gives them a one-win advantage (8-7) over the Sharks, who actually won seven of their first twelve encounters between the sides.
Further to this is that fact that Chiefs territory won’t hold too many fears for the Sharks (despite the Chiefs six from eight record at Waikato Stadium this year), as the South African visitors won in Taupo in 2001, and in Hamilton in 2003 and 2009.
Statistically, the head to head is one of the most even in Super Rugby competition, with just eight points and two tries separating the teams since first clashing in 1998.
The Super Rugby Final, the Chiefs second and the Sharks fourth, is the first time that the two franchises have come up against each other in a Super Rugby Finals Series match.
MATCH DETAILS AND REFEREES:
Saturday, 4 August, 2012
Chiefs v Sharks
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand
Kick Off (1935 local, 0735 GMT, 1735 NSW/ACT, 0935 SAT)
REFEREE Steve Walsh
AR Craig Joubert
AR Keith Brown
TMO Garratt Williamson
HEAD TO HEAD:
Played 15: Chiefs 8, Sharks 7
Points aggregate: Chiefs 367, Sharks 375
Tries aggregate: Chiefs 42, Sharks 44
Last match: Sharks 12 - 18 Chiefs in King's Park, Durban (2012SR, RD9)
Record in Hamilton/Taupo - Played 7, Chiefs 4, Sharks 3
Record in Super Rugby Finals Series - MAIDEN MATCH
Chiefs 2012 Record - Played 16, Won 12,Lost 4
444 PF (4th overall), 358 PA (6th overall), 47 tries (3rd equal overall)
Sharks 2012 Record - Played 16, Won 10, Lost 6
436 PF (5th overall), 348 PA (5th overall), 47 tries (3rd equal)
(Date, Teams, Score, Location)
Sat, 21 Apr 2012, Chiefs v Sharks, 18-12 in Durban
Fri, 18 Mar 2011, Chiefs v Sharks, 15-9 in Hamilton
Sat, 13 Feb 2010, Chiefs v Sharks, 19-18 in Durban
Sat, 28 Feb 2009, Chiefs v Sharks, 15-22 in Hamilton
Sat, 17 May 2008, Chiefs v Sharks, 25-47 in Durban
Sat, 21 Apr 2007, Chiefs v Sharks, 35-27 in Hamilton
Sat, 11 Feb 2006, Chiefs v Sharks, 21-30 in Durban
Sat, 09 Apr 2005, Chiefs v Sharks, 40-5 in Hamilton
Fri, 16 Apr 2004, Chiefs v Sharks, 34-27 in Durban
Sat, 12 Apr 2003, Chiefs v Sharks, 25-31 in Hamilton
Sat, 13 Apr 2002, Chiefs v Sharks, 18-21 in Durban
Sat, 14 Apr 2001, Chiefs v Sharks, 8-24 in Taupo
Sat, 06 May 2000, Chiefs v Sharks, 44-31 in Durban
Fri, 30 Apr 1999, Chiefs v Sharks, 32-19 in Hamilton
Sat, 25 Apr 1998, Chiefs v Sharks, 18-52 in Port Elizabeth
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Tanerau Latimer,
6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Jackson Willison, 22 Lelia Masaga.
The Sharks: 15 Pat Lambie, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (c),
5 Anton Bresler, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Riaan Viljoen.