It is a great challenge for any successful coach to repeat the success of a winning season. It is remarkable how Sir Alex Ferguson keeps repeating his success, but it probably helps to have the resources to continually refresh his squad. At the Chiefs in recent weeks we may have been suffering from the hangover of the season after. Eventually, what was once new and exciting becomes mundane. But, winning never does so we need to get the spark back quickly.
Last year the coaching staff was able to create excitement and belief. No one else thought we would finish higher than 10th, but our goal was to win our first Super Rugby title. We became obsessed with it. The coaches and the players held onto that ambition every minute of the day.
We emphasised how much it meant to be a Chief. We represented an area and all its different cultures. We emphasised how we wanted to play the game and made that part of our identity. Man United play attacking football, Barcelona pass the ball, we wanted to play athletic, physical, intelligent rugby that emphasised the possible and our ability to strike from anywhere.
We put in a leadership group that the team could relate too. And then we had Sonny Bill Williams. He was fanatical about winning and fanatical about how he prepared. That fanaticism spread through the squad and lifted our on field and off field preparation.
One year on and we have to acknowledge that all the ideas are not so exciting any more. We have continued to feed the personal meaning of being a Chief, but most of our squad are living those thoughts for a second time. The thrill of being a new team is no longer there and nor is the underdog status. the Chiefs are now a scalp that everyone wants. Maybe the Reds found that out a bit last season, too. That should be a challenge to be risen to. It takes more to win as the overdog than it does sneaking up on teams.
Some outsiders have noticed how many changes we have made week to week. But a lot of that has been forced. Richard Kahui has been in and out. Andrew Horrell, a player I have a great deal of time for, has been in and out. There have been many others.
But we have also made changes because we are not prepared to accept poor performance. It is not acceptable to pull on the jersey and give less than you are capable of. It is a long season and we need the whole squad to be ready at critical times. Players need an edge. They need the discomfort of selection. Players need the motivation of believing in their opportunity if they play well enough or others underperform.
There have been big holes in our squad through injury but no bigger than last year when we lost five key players through injury for the match against the Highlanders and we had to put the kids in. So we have the same expectations of their replacements this year as we did in 2012.
We, the coaches, need to look at our own performance as well. Against the Blues the team was red hot in terms of physicality. But since we returned from the bye we have been unable to replicate the same levels of intensity. We can’t afford that to happen a second time, so the coaches need to look at how to lift the team after the final bye.
Everyone is working hard. Some of the players are maybe trying too hard. The important thing is not to panic. We’ve plateaued a bit, but we will lift again. The team has character and a sense of history so will do everything possible to raise our performance and earn back the respect we may have lost over recent weeks.
Do you recognise some of the challenges Wayne Smith is facing with his Chiefs? Comments below…