The Chiefs broke the Crusaders 26-match winning streak at home to defeat the champions 30-24 at Jade Stadium on Friday. The Chiefs now sit third on the log, and the Sharks have a shot at finishing top.
The Crusaders did ensure a semi-final spot however, as they are now unassailable for too many of the chasing pack.
What a finish! Never-say-die won the day. The Crusaders lost the battle but won the war. And they did it from an impossible position with the last play of the day. Now that's a sign of class.
The Crusaders looked dead and buried, their chances of a home semi-final fading. After all SitivenI Sivivatu had scored a try which took the visiting Chiefs to 30-19, and that at Jade Stadium where the Crusaders had won 26 consecutive matches. Then the Chiefs attacked again and again and looked certain to score but on both occasion replacement Steven Bates's hands let him down and the Crusaders survived. With just over a minute to go the Chiefs attacked down the left and Liam Messam chipped towards the Crusaders' line.
That was the start of a bonus point for the Crusaders. Scott Hamilton got back and recovered the bouncing ball four metres from his tine. Turning he got away from Bates and suddenly the Crusaders were running free down the opposite wing. Four passes and a tackle, seven passes and a tackle going right and the ball came back going left for a grubber towards the Chiefs' line. The Chiefs fell and were penalised. The Crusaders tapped and bashed. The siren went. The Chiefs were penalised. Richie McCaw tapped and surged over as four Chiefs tried to stop him. The decision was referred to the television match official before the referee awarded the try that gave the Crusaders a bonus point and assured them of a semi-final, a home semi-final unless a ridiculous victory occurs in one of the remaining matches.
The agony, the glory and the mystery of Super 14 rugby. It may have been a dullish competition in 2007 - till the last few rounds and especially to the intriguing final day.
The teams started with missing faces. Jono Gibbes pulled out and Byron Kelleher was on the bench. Chris Jack was back but Daniel Carter was missing and so was Rico Gear whose wife gave birth to a baby that morning.
The Chiefs watched the kick-off go out at the corner and inside two minutes the Crusaders were up 3-0 when Stephen Brett goaled a penalty - a doubtful looking one at a line-out.
Then the Chiefs took over as they denied the Crusaders possession, ran where they were expected to bash and were quite the dominant side. Stephen Donald levelled the scores, and then gave his side the lead till Brett levelled the scored and it was 6-6 after 20 minutes.
When the Crusaders overthrew a line-out Donald was close to the line but it was a lost line-out that produced the first try of the match. The Chiefs threw in but the Crusaders won it and suddenly young Brett broke past Marty Holah, running straight. He gave to McCaw running straight and he gave to big Mose Tuiali'i running at an incline to his right. As Mils Muliaina got to him Tuiali'i stood up long enough to play the ball inside to Ross Filipo and the big lock plonked the ball over the line for the try. Brett converted. 13-6 after 25 minutes.
The Chiefs got back on top and Donald goaled twice to make the score 13-12 after 33 minutes, and then the Chiefs hurrahed into the lead.
Tom Willis won a turn-over and burly Sione Luaki again edged strongly forward till Muliaina was running, swerving, down the left. He threaded a grubber towards the Crusaders' goal where speedy Sivivatu got to the ball before Hamilton, grabbed and bounced up and over to score far out. Donald converted, and then kicked a fifth penalty to make the score 20-13 to the Chiefs at the break.
The Crusaders changed tack in the second half. They started using strong-arm tactics, bashing at the tackle, making tackles, keeping the ball. It was a better half for them, until the last ten minutes, or at least ten of the last ten minutes.
Both sides battled for their own ball in the scrums on an evening of messy scrums. The Chiefs first put the ball into scrum after 47 minutes of the match.
Early in the second half, Brett kicked a penalty. 20-16.
Then the Crusaders may well have been lucky as centre Dwayne Sweeney dribbled a ball into the Crusaders' in-goal the ball staying tantalisingly away from touch-in-goal. The matter was referred to the TMO who ruled that he had lost the ball forward.
No try but lots of pressure on the Crusaders down in their right-hand corner. They survived, got out of their fix and were in fact next to score when Kristian Ormsby executed a heavy high tackle on McCaw and Brett goaled to make the score 20-19 with 19 minutes to go. But a minute later Donald made it 23-19, a little bit of a breathing space.
From a scrum Andrew Ellis broke strongly and Hamilton grubbered to wards the Chiefs' line but Donald saved. The Crusaders stayed to bash but the Chiefs survived.
Play was broken in midfield and going nowhere. The ball came to LauakI and he did then unexpected. Instead of bashing at Crusaders and knocking them over he turned and kicked downfield, a long kick which rolled into the Crusaders in-goal where speedy Sivivatu had no difficulty in beating Tuiali'i to score the try. Donald converted from far out. 30-19 with seven minutes to go.
The Chiefs came roaring back. The Crusaders broke and Donald broke., A try looked certain till hands caved in. The Chiefs forced Tuiali'i back from the ensuing scrum and won a five-metre scrum of their own, from which they bashed in earnest till Bates lost the ball.
But still the Chiefs were on top till that last minute and a bit which saved the Crusaders.
Man of the Match: Mils Muliaina looked back to better form than he had been in Canberra the week before. Both No.8s were powerful - Mose Tuiali'i of the Crusaders and Sione Lauaki of the Chiefs, both major contributors to tries. Our Man of the Match is Stephen Donald who gave his side the best chance of winning the match, which, historically, they did.
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Filipo, McCaw
Pens: Brett 4
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Sivivatu 2
Pens: Donald 6
Crusaders: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Rico Gear, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Scott Hamilton, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Andrew Ellis, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Richard McCaw (c), 6 Reuben Thorne, 5 Chris Jack, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Campbell Johnstone, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Ben May, 18 Michael Paterson, 19 Kieran Read, 20 Kahn Fotuali'i, 21 Rua Tipoki, 22 Johnny Leo'o
Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Roy Kinikinilau, 13 Dwayne Sweeney, 12 Tane Tu'ipulotu, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Marty Holah, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Keith Robinson, 4