Sportal.co.nz 27.Jul.2013Getty Images
Two tries - to Lelia Masaga and Aaron Cruden - in the space of six minutes earned the Chiefs the lead for the first time in the second half and proved the difference as the Crusaders fumbled their final opportunity to steal the after time had expired.
The Chiefs will await the result of the semifinal between the Bulls and the Brumbies in Pretoria to find out who they will host in seven days time.
Meanwhile, Todd Blackadder's dream of bringing an unprecedented eighth Super Rugby title to Canterbury will have to wait. But many will be wondering for how long after his five-year tenure has produced little other than a losing appearance in the 2011 final.
The Chiefs will take huge satisfaction out of this win. Not only did they repeat last year's gutsy semifinal victory over the Crusaders, they buried the 43-15 belting they received in Christchurch just three weeks prior.
For 40 minutes the two best attacking sides in Super Rugby threw everything at each other but stout defence denied any real try-scoring opportunities as Dan Carter used his boot to hand the visitors a slender 9-3 at the break.
The Chiefs made their intentions clear early, playing at a scintillating pace but poor ball security halted a number of promising raids dead in the water.
Their effort wasn't helped by a dysfunctional lineout that denied them the opportunity to build any pressure in attacking territory.
Having weathered the early storm, the Crusaders took a less laboured approach and used a sound kicking game to enter attacking territory where the Chiefs' poor discipline allowed Carter to slot his first penalty of the night in the fifth minute.
The home side attempted to put the squeeze on with rushing defence but only adding to the penalty count as Carter slotted two more before the break.
That was after Aaron Cruden slotted his first and only penalty shot at goal in the opening spell.
At the break Dave Rennie summoned All Black prop Ben Afeaki to enter the fray, but not before sharing a few words that inspired his side to hit back and take the lead.
Again the Chiefs burst onto the field with energy and quickly found themselves in the attacking 22. After a series of pick-and-go's proved failed to breach the line, the ball was fired out to an isolated Masaga who cut in-field then broke through the tackle of George Whitelock to score.
Just moments later the Crusaders helped the home side extend their advantage when centre Ryan Crotty fired a looping pass while facing his own goal line that was intercepted by Cruden with no one in front of him as he sprinted 40 metres to score.
The Crusades needed to respond quickly and were able to do so thanks to some deft footwork by Israel Dagg. His brush with the touch line needed review from the TMO who could find no fault as he dived in at the right corner.
Carter's sideline conversion was crucial as it reduced the deficit to 20-16 with a quarter remaining.
With time winding down, and a Chiefs victory looking more likely, Carter again gave his chance to edge ahead when he slotted his fourth penalty of the night with six minutes remaining.
He wasted no time and launched an ambitious dropped goal attempt which sailed left of the posts, much to the relief of the Waikato Stadium faithful.
The All Black play-maker would have one last say in the match but it will be one that he would rather forget. Receiving the ball in full flight he was hit hard forcing a knock on.
Referee Steve Walsh glanced over to discover that time has expired before he blew the final whistle as the crowd erupted.
Scorers: Chiefs: 20 (Lelia Masaga, Aaron Cruden tries; Cruden 2 con, 2 pen) Crusaders 19 (Israel Dagg try; Dan Carter con, 4 pen). HT: 6-9