Super Rugby: Chiefs Edge Brumbies To Go Back-to-Back
By Brendan Bradford in Hamilton –
The Chiefs came back from a ten-point second-half deficit to defeat the Brumbies 27-22 in Hamilton on Saturday night to claim back-to-back Super Rugby titles.
In one of the great finals contests, the Brumbies jumped out to an early first-half lead before the Canberra side’s immense travel toll proved too much when the defending champions kicked into overdrive and scored two tries in the closing quarter.
The history books will say the Chiefs won by five, but such a titanic battle deserves a more thorough rendering. Having flown all over the world on their way to this match, the Brumbies went toe-to-toe with the reigning champions for an hour and looked likely to claim the most heroic Super Rugby win of all time. They fell agonisingly short, but can take enormous pride in what they’ve achieved this year.
For the second week in a row, the Chiefs fought back after trailing during the second half. Against quality teams both games, they stuck to the game-plan, trusted each other and their coaches and ended up victorious. That’s the mark of a champion side.
Lealiifano opened the scoring with a fourth minute penalty following a Peter Kimlin break in midfield. The Brumbies inside-centre added a second three pointer from near the sideline just a minute later while the Chiefs couldn’t get any momentum in an uncertain opening quarter.
The Brumbies’ rush defence suffocated the Chiefs’ potent attack throughout the first half. The defending champs opted for a quick tap from a midfield penalty to capitalise on a bit of open space as the Brumbies regrouped, but the promising move was bought to a halt when they were penalised five meters out from the line.
As the Chiefs’ lineout woes from last weekend continued, Aaron Cruden scuffed a kickable penalty and Lealiifano punished the mistake a minute later with well struck 42-meter effort for a 9-0 lead.
The Chiefs kept ball in hand, playing deeper to counter the quick defensive line, but were held at bay for most of the half as the Brumbies were still able to effectively slow down the cleanout.
Despite jumping ahead on the scoreboard, the Brumbies were starved of territory and decent attacking opportunities in the opening half hour and three quick-fire Cruden penalties leveled the scores after 31 minutes.
Nic White fell short with a penalty attempt from halfway but the visitors’ vigour on defence continued to harry the Chiefs midfield. When hooker Hika Elliot fumbled a loose pass, Lealiifano showed incredible reflexes to skilfully snap the ball up and streak 40-meters to the tryline for a 16-9 advantage at the break.
Jesse Mogg pushed a 50-plus meter penalty just to the left a minute after the restart but the rangy fullback nudged a perfect kick into the corner to pin the home-side deep in their own half. Referee Craig Joubert blew another penalty and Lealiifano added to his tally for a ten point lead with 35-minutes remaining.
Another Cruden strike negated Lealiifano’s effort as Chiefs coach Dave Rennie introduced fresh legs from bench. The Brumbies had been dominating the scrum, but it proved the perfect attacking opportunity for the Chiefs in the 52nd minute when Cruden broke down the left channel and offloaded to Anscombe before missing a 25-meter penalty straight in front of the posts.
George Smith – outstanding all night – forced a turnover on halfway and Clyde Rathbone regathered a perfect grubber but was dragged down by Cruden just meters short of the line. With a sniff of a try and with it the title, the Brumbies pounded away and were denied by the TMO in the 53rd minute but a fifth Lealiifano penalty stretched the lead back to ten points.
The Chiefs made ground picking and driving up the field only for Sam Cane to knock on with the line in sight with 20-minutes to play.
White missed touch from a penalty and the hosts piled the pressure back on. The error would prove costly. Amoungst a pile of bodies, the Chiefs were held up over the line before Liam Messam powered over for a try from the back of a scrum. Cruden’s horror night with the boot continued and with 15-minutes left on the clock the Brumbies led 22-17.
For 66-minutes the visitors had contained the lethal Chiefs backs but half a gap in midfield was all that replacement Bundee Aki needed to scatter the defence downfield. A couple of quick recycles as the tiring Brumbies retreated allowed Robbie Robinson to fly untouched to tryline for a 24-22 lead, the Chiefs’ first of the match.
Substitute halfback Augustine Pulu made a break from a lineout and the Brumbies’ desperate breakdown work once again got on the wrong side of Joubert. Cruden landed his fifth penalty of the night for a five point advantage as Jake White’s charges struck out one last time for the tryline.
Fotu Auela rampaged down the right flank but Steven Moore was penalised for holding on in the tackle and the Chiefs were out of the woods with under three minutes to play.
As it does in the last minute of every home game, the deafening “CHIEFS” chant went up around Waikato Stadium. The Brumbies knocked-on in contact after the final siren and Joubert extended his arm, gave one last long shrill on his whistle and in doing so declared the Chiefs back-to-back Super Rugby champions.
Chiefs 27 (Liam Messam, Robbie Robinson tries; Aaron Cruden con, 5 pen) df Brumbies 22 (Lealiifano try, con, 5 pen).