Boosted by the retention of Sam Cane, the Chiefs say they’re embracing the step up to knockout rugby in an all-New Zealand match against the Highlanders.
The qualifying final in Dunedin on Saturday pits two teams who bowed out at the same stage last year, both in close losses offshore.
While that was the first play-off game in 12 years for the Highlanders, it was the third in succession for the Chiefs, who won titles the previous two seasons.
Chiefs captain Liam Messam says his team, whose chances last year were crippled by a hefty injury toll, have become accustomed to the requirements of play-off rugby.
“At the end of the day the round-robin doesn’t mean jack,” he told NZ Newswire.
“It’s only Tuesday and the level and intensity of the training and the boys’ minds have really stepped up another level. That just comes down to the knockout situation that we’re facing.”
Messam says fellow-All Blacks flanker Cane’s decision to remain with the Chiefs and New Zealand Rugby for a further two seasons was also a reason for buoyancy at their early-week training run.
The openside specialist was missed in their 21-13 loss to the Hurricanes in Plymouth on Saturday, in the same week he scooped the main prizes at their season-ending awards.
Messam says the result against the top-qualifying Hurricanes had conversely given his team a reason for confidence about their title chances.
The Chiefs powered to a 13-0 lead before mistakes crept in and they crashed to a fourth loss in their last six games.
“It’s disappointing to lose but it was quite funny, because after the game there was a good feeling,” he said.
“We knew we were nowhere near our best performance.”
Meanwhile, 31-year-old Chiefs centurion Messam quashed a report that he had signed a short-term deal to play in Japan during the New Zealand off-season.
However, he didn’t discount the prospect.
“Not yet, I’m the sort of guy who takes one campaign at a time.
“I’m just focused on winning another title with the Chiefs. When I get some down-time, then I’ll make everything final.”