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The Chiefs will host their second successive Super Rugby Final after overcoming the Crusaders 20-19 in the first semi-final in Hamilton on Saturday night.
After a tryless first half, the defending champions had to come from behind in a nail biting finale to an intense battle at Waikato Stadium.
The visitors were first to post points through the boot of flyhalf Daniel Carter after he nailed two early penalties in the opening quarter of the match.
During that time the Crusaders looked dangerous on attack highlighted by the break from fullback Israel Dagg as he almost put winger Zac Guildford away but luckily Chiefs centre Charlie Ngatai was on hand to disrupt the play.
Soon enough the home side managed to reduce the margin as Chiefs flyhalf Aaron Cruden kicked a penalty before Carter replied with three points of his own to restore the lead heading into halftime.
Carter missed a drop goal attempt after the half time siren to leave the score Crusaders 9 Chiefs 3 at the break.
The Crusaders were almost further ahead early in the second period as prop Wyatt Crockett put captain Keiren Read on a charge to the line but somehow Chiefs winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma knocked up then re-gathered Read’s final pass to save the certain try.
To rub salt into the wound play then went back for an early infringement by the Chiefs but Carter's penalty attempt hit the upright.
The game then came to life as the Chiefs struck the next blow through the boot of Cruden on 46 minutes to bring the score back to 9-6.
The momentum swung further in favour of the hosts when they elected to turn down another shot at goal five minutes later. It looked as if the play had broken down, but the ball fell in favour of Lelia Masaga who bulldozed through the defence for the game’s opening try.
The Crusaders almost hit back immediately when Zac Guildford made a break moments later but somehow the Chiefs defence held out against repeated phases from the Crusaders right on their tryline until a knock-on was forced from Crusaders scrumhalf Andy Ellis.
Then against the run of play, Cruden stamped his mark again as he swooped in on a blind pass from Crusaders Ryan Crotty for a forty metre dash to the line. He then converted his own try to make the score 20-9 after 57 minutes.
However immediately from the kickoff the Crusaders showed their class hitting back through the fleet-footed Dagg as he displayed all his skills to bring his side back into the match. Carter converted the fullback’s try make it 20-16 with just over twenty minutes remaining.
With the game in the balance, Carter slotted his fourth penalty six minutes from full time to make it 20-19 and set up a thrilling finish.
The Crusaders launched a final attack with multiple-phases in the Chiefs half but resolute defence from the Chiefs led to a Carter knock on and they held on to earn a well fought semi final victory, much to the excitement of the home crowd.
The Chiefs will await the winner of the Bulls and Brumbies contest with the final to be held at Waikato Stadium next Saturday night with kickoff at 7.35pm. (5.35PM AEST)
SEMI-FINAL - FULL TIME SCORE
Chiefs 20 (Lelia Masaga, Aaron Cruden tries; Cruden 2 pen, 2 con) defeated Crusaders 19 (Israel Dagg try; Dan Carter 4 pen, con)
As it Happened
Minute. Match Detail. Score
5. Carter pen. 0-3
18. Carter pen. 0-6
22. Cruden pen. 3-6
27. Carter pen. 3-9
46. Cruden pen. 6-9
51. Masaga try. 11-9
51. Cruden con. 13-9
56. Cruden try. 18-9
57. Cruden con. 20-9
58. Dagg try. 20-14
59. Carter con. 20-16
74. Carter pen. 20-19
The popularity of rugby in Japan has continued to grow ahead of their inclusion in the 2016 Super Rugby competition.