The Chiefs booked their place in this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby final by producing a passionate and powerful performance to beat the Crusaders 20-17 in Hamilton on Friday.
Dave Rennie’s side looked the fresher of the two, and produced some excellent moments both on attack and defence, outscoring the Crusaders two tries to one as they confirmed their status as the best side in New Zealand.
Now the Chiefs will have to wait until after Saturday’s semifinal to know if they have to fly to Cape Town to face the Stormers or wait in Hamilton until the Sharks arrive for next week’s final match of the 2012 tournament.
But in the coalface of the battle, the Chiefs forwards stood their ground, being manfully led by an inspirational Liam Messam, while departing midfielder Sonny Bill Williams had another big game for the Chiefs and moved closer to adding a Super Rugby title to his impressive CV.
While the game was not without incident, the passion of both sides was apparent as they tried to get the upper hand, with referee Craig Joubert having his hands full at times with the players as things threatened to get heated.
But on a night where Richie McCaw was again a colossus, it was the Crusaders sure-thing Dan Carter who faltered, missing a few penalties and looking generally a bit out-of-sorts with his play when his team needed him most.
In the end, despite a 20+ phase final onslaught, it was the Chiefs defence who held out, and claimed a famous victory over their more illustrious compatriots.
While Aaron Cruden and Carter traded early penalties, it was the Chiefs who took the game by the scruff of the neck early on, as a beautiful break by Williams unleashed Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who managed to run within metres of the line. From the breakdown, Sona Taumalolo first went short, but managed to push himself over for a controversial TMO-confirmed try.
But if the Crusaders were fuming about that try, they could have no qualms seven minutes later, as Robbie Robertson contributed a great break, to feed Williams, who in turn popped the perfect offload to Liam Messam to go over for the try.
The Crusaders kept themselves in the game through a try on the halftime hooter as Ryan Crotty stretched the defence to go over for the Crusaders only try.
In the second half, the Crusaders stepped up the pressure more and Carter moved them within range with two more penalties to Cruden’s one.
But as the time ticked down, Cruden’s next penalty hit the crossbar and dipped under while Carter’s attempt at leveling the scores shortly before the end was well-short.
The Crusaders launched waves of assaults on the Chiefs line as the time ran out, but the home side’s defence was resolute, and ensured that while it may not have been the prettiest win, it was the one that made the difference, and sent the Chiefs to the final.
Chiefs – Tries: Sona Taumalolo, Liam Messam. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (2). Penalties: Cruden (2).
Crusaders – Try: Ryan Crotty.. Penalties: Dan Carter (4).