Super Rugby: Champion Chiefs Do It For Departing Heroes

Co-Captains Liam Messam and Craig Clarke lift the Super Rugby trophy for a second consecutive season.

Co-Captains Liam Messam and Craig Clarke lift the Super Rugby trophy for a second consecutive season.

By Brendan Bradford –

The emotion of playing for a host of teammates leaving at the end of the season spurred the Chiefs to a second half comeback against the Brumbies in the Super Rugby final on Saturday said Aaron Cruden.

Trailing by 10-points midway through the second stanza, Cruden says there was no option but to pick up the pace and get it done for Richard Kahui, Lelia Masaga, Brendon Leonard, Toby Smith and captain Craig Clarke who will all head overseas following the final.

“It was talked about not only to do it for them, but to do it for everyone involved in this organisation,” said Cruden after the 27-22 win.

“The guys that are leaving have been massive contributors and that’s something we celebrated together throughout the week. A lot of people outside our Chiefs circle didn’t think we were going to do it, but we had a lot of belief throughout the year that if we got our game right we’d be able to test sides and to go back to back is pretty satisfying.”

Clarke is heading to Connacht in Ireland next season.

Clarke is heading to Connacht in Ireland next season.

Having made his Super Rugby debut for the Crusaders in 2005, Craig Clarke played 13-times for the Hurricanes before joining the Chiefs in 2009. His time at the Hamilton-based side came full-circle after their 61-17 thrashing by the Bulls in the 2009 final and he now stands as one of only a handful of Super Rugby players to captain a side to consecutive titles.

“A 30 point win would’ve been nice, but just the way it is, an awesome Brumbies team with a huge amount of heart put us under pressure,” said 30-year old Clarke, who now heads to Irish club Connacht.

“It’s a strange feeling – I’ve been doing the same thing for five or six years now and it’s got into a good rhythm there. I’ve enjoyed everything we’re doing here and we’ve been through some lows and some highs over the last couple of years, so I’m really enjoying the success we’ve been having. We’ll have a couple of days of being around this group, but like it does in rugby people go off and do different things and we’re just going off and having a new challenge.”

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said the 30-year old lock will leave a huge void both physically and mentally.

“We’ll miss him heaps, not just his ability on the field, but his leadership and he’s a bloody good man,” said Rennie.

“It’s a pity he’s leaving and he’s certainly good enough to wear a black jersey. So we’re disappointed to see him go but at the same time we’re happy for him, it’s the chance for a new challenge.”

Openside flanker Tanerau Latimer echoed Rennie and Cruden’s sentiments, saying other players will have to step up into the leadership role next year.

“You can’t replace him, Clarkie’s Clarkie,” he said.

“You’ve got a leader in Mess (co-captain Liam Messam) who’s probably the opposite of Clarkie who’s quite calm and that’s good for our team. Mess is all hammer and tongs and it’s a great contrast, it works well, so Azza (Cruden) might have to step up next year and be the calm guy.”

While Clarke departs for Ireland, backs Masaga and Kahui will both play in Japan, halfback Leonard moves to Zebre in Italy and prop Toby Smith signed with the Melbourne Rebels in his bid for a Wallabies jersey.