Cruden kicks Chiefs to tight win
For the first time this season, Aaron Cruden has kicked the Chiefs to a victory with a 22-21 win over the Force in Pukekohe on Friday night.
Early penalties were traded in the second half before Dellit scored his second try to reduce the deficit to one.
However, as they had done throughout the season, the Chiefs found their character when it was called upon. The forwards combined to ensure they outmuscled their opponents at scrum time, resulting in a yellow card to Kieran Longbottom with nine minutes to go.
Cruden kicked five penalties and a conversion for a personal haul of 17 points while Jayden Hayward kicked all but five of his side's 21 points.
The win cements the Chiefs as the top-ranked New Zealand side. The win also ensured they secured top spot over the Brumbies, who have a game in hand.
The hosts' backline injury woes worsened ahead of kick-off, with first five-eighths Gareth Anscombe ruled out until after the international window with a broken toe.
Any nerves milling through ECOLight Stadium about the fullback's absence were heightened when Pat Dellit scored what looked to be a dubious try within the opening five minutes.
A poor pass from Force No.8 Ben McCalman appeared to have dribbled forward before reaching the right winger, who grubber kicked through to score beside the posts.
Referee Mike Fraser consulted video referee Vinny Munro, who found no evidence of a forward pass and subsequently confirmed the try to the disappointment of the Pukekohe faithful.
Nevertheless, the Chiefs responded strongly. Some poor Force discipline gifted the side seven straight penalties, and Cruden certainly cashed in.
Aside from four penalties, Cruden was also called on to convert a slick try to Lelia Masaga in the corner. A quick phase saw the ball travel swiftly through the hands of Brodie Retallick and on to Masaga, who scored to give his side a 10-5 lead. They scored a further two penalties to go on a 16-point streak before the Force broke through with two penalties of their own.
It gave the hosts an eight-point lead, and one they would traditionally kick on from. However, the hosts were anything but secure in the opening quarter. With a number of reset scrums and a deteriorating surface, the Chiefs were left to rue a number of breakdown penalties that allowed the visitors back in the game.
In the end it was a burst from Nick Cummins that gave the visitors the spark they needed. Dellit later scored to reduce the deficit for one.
Longbottom's yellow card with nine minutes to play should have ended the contest, especially when the Chiefs found themselves securing a scrum five metres from the Force's tryline.
A mistimed throw from replacement hooker Mahonri Schwalger closely followed by a breakdown penalty gave first five-eighths Sias Ebersohn an opportunity to win the match.
However, his kick was well wide and the Chiefs held on for a tense win.
Chiefs 22 (Lelia Masaga try; Aaron Cruden con, 5 pen) Force 21 (Patrick Dellit 2 tries, Jayden Hayward con, 3 pen) HT: 19-11