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A second half blitz from the Chiefs saw them overcome a seven-point half time deficit to defeat the brave Brumbies 27-22 in a thrilling Super Rugby Final tonight in Hamilton.
All the Brumbies points were secored by Qantas Wallabies inside centre Christian Lealiifano with a try, a conversion and five penalty goals.
Playing conditions were perfect at Waikato Stadium, with a pristine playing surface, little wind and a balmy 14 degrees. A summer night in Hamilton!
Both teams started tentatively using the boot to try and play the game down in the other team’s half.
But on three minutes a loose pass from Chiefs scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow was scooped up by Brumbies flanker Peter Kimlin who charged down field.
The Brumbies launched multiple phases at the home line, which were repelled by spirited Chiefs defence. Brumbies scrumhalf Nic White was then collared in a high tackle by Chiefs prop Toby Smith, allowing Lealiifano to land the opening points with a penalty from right in front.
Just four minutes later Lealiifano made it 6-0 with a superb long range shot from 45 metres out on the right hand touchline after Chiefs winger Aseli Tikoirotuma had been penalized for a breakdown infringement.
The Chiefs then poured on to attack with multiple phases but just as it seemed the Brumbies defence would crack Chiefs captain Craig Clarke was penalized for coming into a ruck at the side.
On 17 minutes the Chiefs launched an attack from inside their 22 and took play right down to the Brumbies 22 but play broke down and referee Craig Joubert went back for an earlier offside offence against the visitors.
Chiefs flyhalf Aaron Cruden however mis-hit the penalty attempt from right in front 35 metres out.
Lealiifano then had a chance to make it 9-0 soon after from 43 metres out after the Chiefs were penalized for crossing. Despite the chorus of cow-bells the young centre was again successful.
Despite being behind on the scoreboard the Chiefs were making all the running and Cruden made it 9-6 after 26 minutes with two quick penalties from breakdown infringements given away by the Brumbies under pressure.
Two more penalties against the Brumbies gave the Chiefs good field position in the Brumbies 22 and a further penalty to the Chiefs allowed Cruden to make it 9-all after 32 minutes.
The Brumbies had a chance to make it 12-9 shortly afterwards but White’s long range penalty from just his side of halfway fell short.
But the Brumbies were back in front on 37 minutes. George Smith pressurized Kerr-Barlow at the back of the ruck into a loose pass that ballooned over the head of Chiefs hooker Hika Elliot.
Lealiifano darted behind Elliott and somehow managed to pluck the ball from around his ankles and sprint away 40 metres to score outwide. Joubert went to the TMO to see if Smith had been offside but the all clear was given by Vinny Munro.
Lealiifano then landed a superb conversion from right out on the touchline and the Brumbies led 16-9.
Winger Henry Speight launched a counter attack with a superb run straight from the kick off. But the Chiefs held on and full back Jesse Mogg grubbered the ball into touch to end the first half.
A scrum penalty straight after half time gave Mogg a chance to extend the lead but his well struck penalty from near the half way faded to the left.
However the Brumbies were up 19-9 after 45 minutes when Kerr-Barlow was penalized for holding on near his line and Lealiifano landed his easiest penalty of the night.
It was back to 19-12 two minutes later when White, was penalized for a similar offence and Cruden was successful from directly in front 30 metres out.
A thrilling counter attack from the Chiefs earned them another penalty two minutes later but Cruden’s attempt hit the left upright.
The Brumbies then launched their own counter attack from a Smith won-turnover and Lealiifano put through a perfectly weighted chip kick for Clyde Rathbone to run on to.
The veteran Brumbies winger charged through three tackles and looked set to score a famous try but somehow Cruden dragged him down metres short.
The Brumbies continued to attack and after being denied by the TMO for a try they then won a penalty which Lealiifano landed to put them out to a 22-12 lead after 58 minutes.
The Chiefs had an excellent chance just minutes later but again when it seemed certain they would score replacement flanker Sam Cane knocked on in front of the posts.
Now it was the small pocket of Brumbies fans in the crowd who could be heard. The ACT-based side seemed on the cusp of a famous victory.
The Brumbies then won a penalty from the ensuing scrum but in what turned out to be the turning point of the match, White failed to find touch and the Chiefs launched a dangerous attack.
They were judged by the TMO to be held up from their first drive but from the five-metre scrum they wheeled left and flanker, and Man of the Match, Liam Messam picked up and drove over to bring the score back to 22-17, Cruden missing the conversion.
The Chiefs then attacked from deep in their own 22 with a long break from Bundee Aki who linked with Tikoirotuma. Desperate defence from the Brumbies seemed to have snuffed out the attack but the ball came wide to replacement Robbie Robinson who sliced through the Brumbies defence to score the Chiefs second try in just four minutes.
This time Cruden was successful with the conversion and the Chiefs were in front for the first time in the match 24-22 with 12 minutes remaining.
The home team then extended their lead to five points with a fifth penalty to Cruden after a break from Augustine Pulu who was on for Kerr Barlow. 27-22 to the Chiefs with less than ten minutes remaining.
The Brumbies threw everything they had at the Chiefs in the final minutes but the home team’s defence held firm.
The visitors had a chance to attack in the final moments but Mogg failed to find touch from a penalty and the Chiefs cleared. The valiant Brumbies then launched a final attack from a quick throw in but a knock on from Mogg ended any chance of the heroics of last weekend being repeated.
A magnificent performance from a valiant Brumbies side but in the end they came up just short as the Chiefs claimed their second successive Super Rugby crown.
SUPER RUGBY FINAL
FULL TIME SCORE
Chiefs 27 (Liam Messam, Robbie Robinson tries; Aaron Cruden 5 penalty goals, conversion) defeated Brumbies 22 (Christian Lealiifano try; conversion; 5 penalty goals) at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton. (Half time: Brumbies 16 – Chiefs 9) (Referee: Craig Joubert)
The Western Force return to NIB Stadium for the second time this season and the Honey Badger wants sea of blue fans to “get your carcass on the chair”! In 2014 the Force had a slow start to the season, before finishing off strongly, and they will be hoping for a repeat after winning just one of their opening four matches this season!
The Queensland Reds are struggling with injury and form at present, and they’ve been handed another massive blow this weekend with James O’Connor (leg) & Lachie Turner (concussion) being ruled out. Suffering a 23-5 loss to the NSW Waratahs on the weekend, the Reds will run onto Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night looking to turn their season around after just one win to their name in the opening four rounds coming against the Western Force two weeks ago!