Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Chiefs fight back to retain title

Liam Messam's second try of the season proved to be crucial

The Chiefs claimed the Super Rugby title for the second consecutive season with a 27-22 come-from-behind victory over the Brumbies at Waikato Stadium.

Liam Messam's 63rd-minute try lifted the Chiefs and suddenly the game came alive, with the defending champions roared on by their home crowd of 25,114.

The Chiefs upped the ante at the right time and got immediate impacts from their substitutes, and the inability of the visitors to score at vital moments in the second half ultimately cost them the title.

Settling quickly in perfect conditions, the Brumbies were bolstered by fourth and seventh-minute penalty goals landed by Christian 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 foray 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 full-back Gareth Anscombe and Lelia Masaga clearing out downfield effectively.

After a wayward first penalty attempt, Aaron Cruden was more accurate with his second to open the Chiefs' account.

Then three minutes later a penalty awarded when the Brumbies did not 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.

And 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 fumbled by hooker Hika Elliot. The Brumbies star broke away and scored once referee Craig Joubert had been satisfied flanker George Smith was not offside at the preceding ruck.

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 challengers 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.

When the Chiefs mounted their first serious attack on the line it resulted in a promising move breaking down when replacement flanker Sam Cane dropped the ball five metres out.

But the Brumbies failed to find touch and when the ball was run back by wing Masaga, the Chiefs missed out on a try courtesy of a lack of evidence for the video referee.

However, from the resulting scrum Messam charged across 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 Bundee Aki opened up the Brumbies' defence and with support from wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma, the Chiefs went on the attack.

Rucked ball was quickly won and it was replacement full-back Robbie Robinson who took the gap and charged for the line to level the scores.

Cruden landed the conversion to give his side the lead for the first time.

That was followed by a superb break by replacement half-back Augustine Pulu which took play to the Brumbies' 22m area, where a penalty was awarded and Cruden brought up 100 points in Super Rugby this year by kicking a goal to give his side a decisive 27-22 lead.

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