A last-minute penalty from Aaron Cruden helped the Chiefs to a 19-17 win over the Brumbies at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth on Friday.
Late withdrawals of Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Cane were blows for the Chiefs before kick-off as Seta Tamanivalu and Tevita Koloamatangi came in, with Charlie Ngatai moving to twelve as the hosts needed to adapt to the changes against the notoriously fast starting Brumbies.
Christian Lealiifano opened the scoring on four minutes off the tee but Cruden replied for the Chiefs soon after to tie things up at 3-3.
The Brumbies were turning down kickable points in the first-half which was surprising, but eventually they pointed to the posts from distance as scrum-half Nic White landed an impressive three points on thirteen minutes. His game management would be key if they were to get the win.
However, a powerful surge from Chiefs winger Bryce Heem helped create the first try of the game moments later when Ngatai supported well before his good fend, step and speed saw him race under the posts for an impressive score. Cruden's simple extras made it a 10-6 lead.
The Brumbies' pack was beginning to impress though in the tight exchanges as they got on top at scrum time. But it was the driving maul at line-out time that created success on eighteen minutes as number eight Ita Vaea was at the tail, going over in the corner to make it 10-11.
Cruden would respond on 32 minutes for 13-11 and with White striking the post towards the end of the half, the Chiefs would go in in front.
The second-half would be a much more cagey affair as the Brumbies looked to build a cushion and did just that in the 43rd and 57th minute thanks to penalties from Lealiifano, which gave them a 13-17 advantage as the benches emptied from both sides.
The hosts were still in touch in the game though as their champion-like qualities began to take effect and when Cruden landed three points with twelve minutes remaining, it was all set up for a grandstand finish at Yarrow Stadium, with the Chiefs pushing hard for the victory.
And it eventually came as with 20 seconds remaining, referee Steve Walsh blew for the Brumbies coming offside at scrum time and Cruden did the rest.
Pen: Cruden 4
Pen: Lealiifano 3, White
Chiefs: 15 James Lowe, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Tevita Koloamatangi, 6 Liam Messam (captain), 5 Michael Fitzgerald, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Ben Tameifuna, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Sean Polwart, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Brumbies: 15 Robbie Coleman, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White (c), 8 Ita Vaea, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 JP Smith, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Sean Doyle, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 James Dargaville, 23 Lausii Taliauli.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Shane McDermott (New Zealand), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Glen Newman (New Zealand)