The Chiefs secured home-ground advantage for next week’s semi-finals with a tense 10-7 win over the Brumbies.
As expected, the game, which had taken on ‘quarter-final’ status, was a tense affair with the forwards dominating the early exchanges. The scrums were hotly contested as was the tackle point, and there was some no-nonsense cleaning out from both sides.
The first half was fairly even, but the Chiefs dominated both territory and possession in the second stanza, and in the end claimed a deserved win, securing their first home semi-final in the process. It is a remarkable achievement after having lost their opening three games.
The Brumbies fought all the way with some gutsy defence, but were on the back foot for the majority of the game.
In the first 40 the hosts enjoyed the territorial advantage, while the Brumbies had slightly more of the ball as both sides appeared to cancel each other out.
Both Stirling Mortlock and Stephan Donald missed penalty attempts, both of which you would have expected kickers of their caliber to slot with ease – a clear indication of the pressure on both sets of players.
After a tight first half an hour, the game finally opened up when some brilliant work from Adam Ashley-Cooper saw Francis Fainifo break the deadlock. The Brumbies fullback first nonchalantly handed off Callum Bruce before putting through a well-weighted kick, and Lelia Masaga’s lazy cover defence saw Fainifo sneak in for the first try of the game, which Stirling Mortlock converted.
That seemed to spark the game into life as the Chiefs hit back immediately through a try from Donald, after some good work on the wing from Masaga. This saw the sides level at seven-all at half-time.
Chiefs coach Ian Foster was far from happy with his side’s set piece work in the first half, and rightfully so, as the Brumbies had the better of the hosts at both lineout and scrum time.
Their cause wasn’t helped in this regard when prop Ben May was forced to leave the field after the break, but Sona Taumalolo’s introduction galvanised the Chiefs’ front row, resulting in a much improved second half showing.
The Chiefs made the better start to the second stanza, setting up camp in the Brumbies’ half. But the hosts had little to show for their territorial advantage, as the Brumbies were doing a good job of spoiling at the breakdown, Brumbies openside flank George Smith proving to be a irritation for the Chiefs.
Donald had the first chance to put his side in front, but once again his nerves got the better of him as his penalty attempt rebounded of the upright.
Missing the last three games with a sternum injury didn’t seem to hamper Chiefs scrumhalf Brendon Leonard, who produced a brilliant performance. It was the All Blacks scrumhalf’s charge down that looked set to break the tie, but Bruce failed to hold onto the ball in the wet and the chance was gone.
The decisive point in the game came with just under 12 minutes left when, having just come on to the field, replacement Huia Edmonds was sent to the bin for a cynical infringement at ruck time.
Donald slotted the resulting penalty to give his side a three-point lead.
Trailing by three with 10 minutes to play and a man down, the Brumbies needed to something special. But the Chiefs played smart, pegging the visitors back in their half and winding down the clock.
The Brumbies were awarded a penalty on the halfway line with time almost up, but they failed to find touch with the kick, and the Chiefs cleared their lines.
The win means the Chiefs will be back in front of their home crowd next week, while the Brumbies will need massive favours from the likes of the Blues, Bulls and Lions if they are to sneak into the play-offs.
By Andrew Worling