Planet Rugby

Chiefs book themselves home semi

15th May 2009 08:21

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Stephen Donald

Tight tussle: Stephen Donald is kept under wraps by Stephen Hoiles

The Chiefs booked themselves their first home Super 14 semi-final after beating the Brumbies 10-7 at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Friday.

Stephen Donald scored all the points for the home side against a Brumbies side whose never-say-die attitude kept the game alive for the full 80 minutes.

The Brumbies needed at least an eight-point win over the Chiefs and to score four tries or more to have any chance of making the semi-finals, while the home side would likely be assured a spot by losing within seven points to pick up a bonus-point.

Both outfits - with the same goal in mind - weren't risking anything in the opening quarter, taking a conservative approach with plenty of kicking the special of the day and a side order of forward dominance.

The courage on defence was fierce, the intensity around the breakdown was immense and with wet weather threatening the standard of play - both sides stepped up to the plate and handled the ball with relative ease.

The Chiefs were favourites from kick-off, but as the stadium clock wound down the first half, the match remained scoreless after 33 minutes played.

The Chiefs had their moments with a scrum and line-out five metres from the Brumbies' line, but failed in both attempts to cross the whitewash, with Aled de Malmanche failing miserably at the line-out.

Having dominated territory, the Chiefs were their own worst enemy by conceding sixteen turnovers in the first forty minutes that gave the Brumbies plenty of ball to work with. The Australians piled on the pressure at the set piece, an area the Chiefs will need to work on double-time if they plan on making it to the final.

The Brumbies had an opportunity to go ahead 24 minutes into the game, but a standard penalty shot by Stirling Mortlock was pushed to the right, keeping the unimpressive scoreline at nil-all. Donald thought he could do better with his first penalty attempt of the night, but missed too - much to the dismay of the crowd.

Finally, out of nowhere, the game sparked to life.

With the visitors in possession, full-back Adam Adam Ashley-Cooper put in a stiff hand-off on Dwayne Sweeney before stabbing a grubber through ahead for winger Francis Fainifo to give chase. The Brumbies flyer did just that and more, slipping under a casual covering effort from opposite number Lelia Masaga to score a well-worked opportunist try.

Mortlock converted from out wide and the Brumbies were seven points in front.

The home side struck back in typical Chiefs fashion though, chancing their arm against the incoming Brumbies defence that released Masaga down the right-hand touchline. He made up for his earlier shambles by making valuable metres, before a hard hit by Mortlock stopped him in his tracks.

The Brumbies couldn't stop Donald though who somehow managed to wrestle his way through two defenders from close range for the Chiefs' opening score.

His conversion levelled the scores and at seven points apiece, the teams headed into the half-time sheds with plenty to do in the second half.

The conditions got worse after the break, with slippery conditions not helping either team's cause. The scrums were a mess as the front rows struggled to keep a grip on engagements and an injury to Ben May robbed the hosts of their number one prop.

The arm-wrestle continued for the most part of the second forty, with the Chiefs posing a bigger threat on the Brumbies line. In fact, the Australians struggled to find a way out of their 22m, scampering back time after time to keep the home side out of the danger-zone.

The Brumbies breathed a sigh of relief when returning Chiefs scrum-half Brendon Leonard charged down a Joshua Holmes box-kick that allowed Callum Bruce to pick up the loose ball for what seemed like a certain try under the posts. He was away, only to spill the ball forward inches from the line thanks to a try-saving tackle by Ashley-Cooper.

The visitors' high fives soon turned down low after the resulting 5m scrum to the Brumbies ended in a free-kick to the Chiefs. The free-kick then turned into a penalty and a yellow card for replacement hooker Huia Edmonds.

With just twelve minutes of the match remaining, Donald wasted little time in slamming over the three points from bang in front - a crucial score that ultimately proved the difference between the two sides.

Man of the match: For the Chiefs, flanker Liam Messam was his hard-working self while Stephen Donald must be the leading contender for the All Blacks' number ten shirt. For the Brumbies, Stirling Mortlock faught long and hard but our vote goes to Adam Ashley-Cooper who tackled his heart out and kicked with precision. Saved a certain try and set up another for his team.

The scorers:

For Chiefs:

Try: Donald

Con: Donald

Pen: Donald

For Brumbies:

Try: Fainifo

Con: Mortlock

Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Kevin O'Neill, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 James McGougan, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Ben May.

Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Toby Lynn, 19 Serge Lilo, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Dwayne Sweeney, 22 Sosene Anesi.

Brumbies: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Clyde Rathbone, 13 Stirling Mortlock, 12 Tyrone Smith, 11 Francis Fainifo, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Patrick Phibbs, 8 Stephen Hoiles (c), 7 George Smith, 6 Julian Salvi, 5 Peter Kimlin, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 Stephen Moore/Huia Edmonds, 1 Ben Alexander.

Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds/John Ulugia, 17 Salesi Ma'afu, 25 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Henry Vanderglas, 20 Joshua Holmes, 21 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 22 Sanualio Afeaki.

Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)

Touch judges: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)

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