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July 27 (Reuters) - The Waikato Chiefs foiled a spirited
comeback bid by the Canterbury Crusaders on Friday to register a
nail-biting 20-17 victory and reach the Super Rugby final for
just the second time.
Tries from Sona Taumalolo and Liam Messam helped the Chiefs
race to a 17-6 lead as the 40-minute siren sounded at Waikato
Stadium but Ryan Crotty touched down from the final move of the
first half and Dan Carter kicked the visitors back to within
Carter looked set to further stoke the Crusaders' chances of
adding to their record seven titles when he lined up a
penalty in front of the posts with four minutes remaining.
The kick would have tied the semi-final at 20-20 but it
dropped just short and the Chiefs held on until the whistle in
the face of constant pressure.
"It's pretty unreal at the moment. I just want to look at
the scoreboard and let it sink in a little bit," Chiefs captain
Craig Clarke said. “
"Their try before half-time certainly made the game
interesting. We said we were going to have to come out for the
second half and be strong. “It certainly wasn't perfect but it
was good enough."
There will now be a new name on the trophy, with the Chiefs
set to meet the Stormers or the Sharks in next week's final.
The South African rivals meet in Cape Town in Saturday's
The Chiefs lost their only previous final to the Bulls in
2009, while the Sharks have lost three finals and the Stormers
Three weeks after losing to the Crusaders at the same venue,
the Chiefs' searing pace and high defensive line forced a series
of uncharacteristic errors from their rivals.
"We made crucial mistakes and never really got our game
going," Crusaders captain Richie McCaw said. "“They've set the
standard over here, there's no doubt about that. They've played
well all the way through."
The score was 3-3 following an exchange of penalties between
Aaron Cruden and Carter when Sonny Bill Williams broke a couple
of tackles and offloaded in midfield.
Quick hands from Cruden and Tawera Kerr-Barlow gave lock
Brodie Retallick the chance to carry to within striking range of
the line, from where Taumalolo picked up and drove low.
The Tonga prop appeared to propel himself a second time to
reach the line but referee Craig Joubert referred the decision
to the TV official, who ruled that the score was good.
There was no ambiguity about the next try.
Fullback Robbie Robinson broke from deep and cut through
tackles with ease before being hauled down. Williams picked up
and offloaded to Messam, who danced through to score and Cruden
added the extras for 17-6, with Carter having struck a second
successful penalty for his side.
A tight penalty call during a chase downfield then stopped
the Chiefs earning at least a five-meter scrum. The decision
allowed the Crusaders to return play to the other end and last
year's beaten finalists made the most of their reprieve.
Matt Todd broke through a gap, Carter kept the ball moving
and Crotty sneaked in to trim the deficit to 17-11 at the
From the restart, Carter almost immediately added a third
penalty to his tally for 17-14 and traded kicks with Cruden to
make it 20-17.
With McCaw marshalling his forwards, the Crusaders pummelled
the Chiefs in the hope of a breakthrough but the closest the
teams came to adding more points was when Cruden hit the
underside of bar with a penalty from 55 meters and Carter failed
with his late attempt.
That missed kick means the Chiefs are only the second New
Zealand side to beat the Crusaders in 10 playoff matches. The
Crusaders' only previous defeat to another Kiwi outfit was
against the Auckland Blues in the 2003 final.
(Reporting by Stuart Condie; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)