Chiefs win two in a row
A superb example of leadership from loose forward Liam Messam lifted the Chiefs to a final quarter assault to break the Brumbies' brave assault on the Investec Super Rugby final for a 27-22 win at Hamilton's Waikato Stadium on Saturday night.
The Chiefs upped the ante at the right time to test the travel endurance of the Brumbies who had traversed the Indian Ocean to reach the final. They put up a game effort but it was the depth of the home team, who substitutes made immediate impacts, and the inability of the visitors to score at vital moments in the second half that ultimately cost them the title.
The Brumbies were also heavily penalised, and twice warned that the next infringement when the Chiefs were on attack would result in a yellow card and that was their Achilles heel as they went into the final as the team to have conceded more penalties in matches than any other in the competition this season.
When the Chiefs mounted their first try-scoring attack it resulted in a promising move breaking down when replacement flanker Sam Cane dropped the ball five metres out from the line. But the Brumbies failed to find touch and the ball was run back by wing Lelia Masaga, and the Chiefs, like the Brumbies, also missed out on a try courtesy of a lack of evidence for the video referee.
However, from the resulting scrum Messam charged cross from the base with a powerful surge. It was only his second try of the season but it could not have been more important.
Four minutes later a breakout play by replacement second five-eighths Bundee Aki opened up the Brumbies' defence and with support from wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma, the Chiefs went hot on attack. Rucked ball was quickly won and it was replacement fullback Robbie Robinson who took the gap and charged for the line to level the scores.
First five-eighths Aaron Cruden landed the conversion to give his side the lead for the first time.
That was followed by a superb break by replacement halfback Augustine Pulu which took play to the Brumbies' 22m area where a penalty was awarded and Cruden celebrated his 100 points in Super Rugby this year by goaling to give his side a 27-22 lead.
Settling quickly in perfect conditions and in front of a crowd of 25,114, the Brumbies were bolstered by fourth and seventh minute penalty goals landed by Lealiifano. A third after 20 minutes produced the record for most penalty goals in a season of 67, breaking the 66 scored by the Crusaders last year.
The Chiefs worked an early variation at a penalty, feinting to kick to touch before tap-kicking and moving the ball. It resulted in the first positive forays into Brumbies territory and came to an end when lock Craig Clarke was penalised for taking out a legitimate defender at a ruck.
The Chiefs, on several occasions, also looked to move the ball out of their own 22-metre area by hand, with fullback Gareth Anscombe and Masaga clearing out downfield effectively.
After a wonky first penalty goal attempt Chiefs first five-eighths Aaron Cruden was more accurate with his second to open the Chiefs' account. Then three minutes later a penalty awarded when the Brumbies didn't roll away at a ruck resulted in three more points. A 31st minute ruck infringement resulted in Cruden levelling the scores at 9-9.
The Chiefs had to cope with a smothering defence from the Brumbies, including centre Tevita Kuridrani charging out of line to make spot tackles.
It was that method of defence which resulted in the opening try, in the 37th minute, when Lealiifano intercepted a hurried pass that had been tipped on by hooker Hika Elliot. The Brumbies second five bolted on a lateral angle and scored once referee Craig Joubert had been satisfied flanker George Smith had not been off-side at a ruck in the preceding play.
That gave the Brumbies a 16-9 advantage at the half-time break.
Penalties were traded early in the second half while a Brumbies breakout, which saw wing Clyde Rathbone charge onto a kick only to be pulled down a metre from the Chiefs line, resulted in a concentrated period on attack for the challenges but their only reward was another penalty goal for Lealiifano who achieved an all-time Australian scoring record of 233 points for the season, five more than Quade Cooper achieved in 2011. A possible try was ruled due to a lack of television evidence.
Chiefs 27 (Liam Messam, Robbie Robinson tries; Aaron Cruden con, 5 pen) Brumbies 22 (Christian Lealiifano try; Lealiifano con, 5 pen) HT: 9-16