Chiefs hang on to book final spot
July 27, 2012
Sona Taumalolo scored the Chiefs' first try
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The Chiefs produced a display of rare intensity to defeat the Crusaders 20-17 in Hamilton on Friday night, booking their place in the Super Rugby final.
The hosts delighted a sell-out crowd at Waikato Stadium, securing a spot in the title decider after running away with the New Zealand Conference during the regular season.
All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter came out on the wrong end of his personal battle with the Chiefs' Aaron Cruden and, despite kicking 12 points, fell short with a late penalty opportunity that could have forced extra time.
The Chiefs were carried home by their defence, which forced the Crusaders back beyond halfway in the dying moments after the visitors had tried in vain to force a drop-goal opportunity.
After a full-blooded opening half-an-hour the Chiefs emerged in credit thanks to Sona Taumalolo's ninth try of the season, although there were to be further twists before the break.
Carter pulled the Crusaders back onto an even keel with a 31st-minute kick, but the Chiefs blew the game open with a stunning try to snatch back their early momentum. Fullback Robbie Robinson was the architect as his break allowed Sonny Bill Williams to force enough space to put a rampaging Liam Messam over.
The Crusaders' response was swift and exposed a rare defensive lapse from the hosts, with Matt Todd and Carter combining to send centre Ryan Crotty crashing over in the corner.
Carter kicked two second-half penalties to Cruden's one, but the Crusaders were unable to find a cutting edge in the dying stages, leaving the Chiefs to look forward to breaking new ground in the final - where they will face either the Stormers or Sharks.
Coach Dave Rennie will hope for a full slate of names to choose from, although he will have to wait for confirmation after referee Craig Joubert placed a first-half incident on a white card, with punches thrown by both sides.
Crusaders skipper Richie McCaw conceded that the Chiefs deserved their victory and admitted they made too many errors to win the game. He said: "We made crucial mistakes and never got our game going which probably comes down to a good Chiefs team but we probably lacked a bit of composure as well.
"You can't win games when you haven't got that. The Chiefs have set the standard all year, there's no doubt about that. From our point of view it was disappointing but they probably deserved the win."
Chiefs captain Craig Clarke said: "It's pretty unreal at the moment, I just have to look at the scoreboard and let it sink in a little bit. It wasn't perfect. A couple of scrums went backwards and a couple of line-outs were overthrown so it certainly wasn't perfect, but it was good enough."
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