The Chiefs don’t expect travel fatigue to play a role when they host the Brumbies in a most unexpected Super Rugby final on Saturday.
The defending champions upset the recent form book with a breathtaking 20-19 semi-final win over the Crusaders at Waikato Stadium.
Hours later the Brumbies conjured a greater upset, toppling the Bulls 26-23 courtesy of a last-gasp try in Pretoria to reach their first final in nine years.
While a Bulls-Crusaders final in Pretoria had been predicted by many, the New Zealand and Australian conference champions both notched courageous wins to set up a Hamilton showdown.
The top-qualifying Chiefs will be favoured to defend their title but co-captain Craig Clarke is taking nothing for granted.
Last year his side overwhelmed the Sharks 37-6 to secure a maiden title, but the low-qualifying South African side had endured a nightmare travel schedule during the preceding weeks.
This time the Brumbies just have one return trip from South Africa to overcome.
“If you’ve got an experienced crew, you can deal with that. And they’re experienced, I’m sure they’ll be very combative,” Clarke said.
“The travel does play a little factor. It’s awesome to be able to prepare in your own facilities and have that extra day of training.”
Coach Dave Rennie took furious notes when viewing a replay of the Brumbies win.
It was built around a disciplined kicking game, their ability to disrupt the Bulls at the breakdown and the fitness at altitude to send centre Tevita Kuridrani over for a match-winning try with two minutes to play.
Through a quirk of the draw, the teams haven’t met this year.
However, Rennie won’t veer too far tactically from what has worked for a team lacking individual star power over the past two seasons.
Their win over the in-form Crusaders was built on character, defending for lengthy periods through the first half to trail just 9-3 and then again over the closing stages.
Victory was built on 17 points scored in the third quarter, featuring tries to wing Lelia Masaga and five-eighth Aaron Cruden.
“We got caught out a couple of times but on the whole there were some fantastic moments defensively,” Rennie said.
“The Crusaders are a hell of a side and they’ve been playing some fantastic rugby.
“We’ve been lucky we got them at home.”
The Chiefs have won just six of 18 games against the Brumbies, although they’ve won their last two clashes in Hamilton.
Their most recent meeting was there, 16 months ago, when they won 29-22 to square their historical record at Waikato Stadium at 3-3.
The Chiefs lost their only previous playoff game, 32-17 in Canberra in 2004, when the Brumbies went on to claim their second crown.
Australia’s most successful team, the Brumbies reached the playoffs for five successive seasons until 2004 but hadn’t been back before this year.