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Chiefs squeeze through to final

27th July 2013 10:29

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Interception: Aaron Cruden

A thrilling second-half saw the Chiefs advance to the Super Rugby Final with a 20-19 victory over the Crusaders in Hamilton on Saturday.

Tries from Lelia Masaga and Aaron Cruden gave the Chiefs a big enough advantage to survive the late fightback from the Crusaders as time ticked away.

It means that the 2012 champions will have the chance to defend their title next weekend against either the Bulls or the Brumbies.

Opening at a frenetic pace, the Crusaders got the scoreboard rolling with a penalty from Carter after five minutes following the Chiefs' failure to capitalise from a promising phase of possession from the kick-off.

It was a tale of frustration that continued for the hosts throughout the opening quarter. The Crusaders were more assured in attack and rock-solid in defence, a second Carter penalty handing them a 6-0 lead.

An error from George Whitelock then created the opening penalty opportunity for Cruden, adding three points of his own, but both defences were holding firm - Carter's third penalty keeping the gap at six points.

High on quality but just lacking the cutting edge in the opening half, the Chiefs lineout wobbles damaged their cause further.

An uncharacteristic miss from Carter kept the Chiefs in touch as half-time approached, the Crusaders by far the more menacing prospect in the first-half. They lead 9-3 at the break.

There was no let up from the seven-time champions after the interval, Carter's initial break leading to a penalty after Charlie Ngatai went offside with Asaeli Tikoirotuma saving what looked to be a certain try by intercepting Kieran Read's pass. Carter's effort however ricocheted back off the post.

Cruden had no such issues with his second penalty, despite an unclean contact, to cut the deficit to three.

The points on the board were like a rocket for the home side, the crowd roaring into life after Craig Clarke's break set up an attacking lineout five metres out for the champions.

A moment of Lelia Masaga magic followed. The departing flyer sped and then barged his way through four tacklers to rack up the game's first try and put the Chiefs in front for the first time.

Sustained Crusaders pressure after a break from Zac Guildford nearly had Todd Blackadder's side back in front but it was Cruden who struck with an intercept try, Ryan Crotty's blind pass seeing him come unstuck.

Israel Dagg hit back with a sensational score for the Crusaders, stepping his way through tired tacklers and narrowly avoiding the touchline to score in the corner and leave the scoreboard standing at 20-16.

The titanic struggle entered the final ten minutes with Cruden missing what would have been a useful three points with a skewed penalty kick, as Richie McCaw was unleashed from the bench.

Carter's fourth penalty, after two earlier misses, made it a one-point game as the pressure told on Cruden with the restart not going ten metres.

It handed the Crusaders a midfield scrum, from which a threaded kick by Willi Heinz forced Robbie Robinson to kick into touch and give the Crusaders a lineout in the Chiefs 22.

Carter's drop kick on the run flew wide to the left as the Chiefs fans nerves were left shredded, leading by a single point with only three minutes left and with the Crusaders hammering away at the Chiefs defensive line.

With the hooter sounding Carter's offload went forward and with it Waikato Stadium erupted with the noise of cowbells and the realisation of a second successive Super Rugby final. It could not have been a narrower victory.

The scorers:

For Chiefs:
Tries: Masaga, Cruden
Cons: Cruden 2
Pen: Cruden 2

For Crusaders:
Try: Dagg
Con: Carter
Pen: Carter 4

Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Andrew Horrell, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Bundee Aki, 22 Robbie Robinson.

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Luke Whitelock, 19 Richie McCaw, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Adam Whitelock.

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson, Chris Pollock
TMO: Glenn Newman

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Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Sharks831
2Brumbies825
3Chiefs825
4Waratahs824
5Western Force823
6Crusaders822
7Hurricanes821
8Highlanders719
9Bulls919
10Lions916
11Blues816
12Reds816
13Melbourne Rebels816
14Stormers810
15Cheetahs99