Chiefs steal it at the death
Chiefs outside centre Jackson Willison slid over next to the corner flag off the penultimate move of the game to earn his team an exciting 29-22 win over the plucky Brumbies in what amounted to a Vodacom Super Rugby arm-wrestle at Baypark in Tauranga on Friday.
For most of the way the first match of round four did not provide much to inspire those who were watching it, though you had to admire the energy that the Brumbies put into their first away match as a unit under the coaching of former Springbok mentor Jake White.
While the Brumbies advertised the fact to all those who didn’t already know that they were being coached by a South African with an outstanding defensive effort and also a few telling driving mauls, there were too many handling mistakes from both teams in the first hour.
Up to then it was nip and tuck and looked as though the game would be decided by penalties as Aaron Cruden for the hosts and the Brumbies’ ever improving flyhalf Christian Lealiifano took turns in raising the flags, with no team ever going more than three points ahead after Lealiifano had started the sequence in the fourth minute of the game.
But if anyone felt safe with the bet that the game wouldn’t see a try that theory was scotched in the last 11 minutes as the game came to life and three five-pointers, all of them converted, were scored. The first came in the 69th minute, with the Chiefs crossing through prop Sauno Taumalolo to break what had been a 15-all deadlock.
The commentators had questioned why the Chiefs opted to set up an attacking lineout from a kickable penalty, but this was one instance where fortune definitely favoured the brave. The Chiefs showed impressive patience in driving the ball up, but referee Ian Smith adjudged that they had been held up as they surged over the line.
No matter though for the Chiefs, they just made sure they fronted comfortably in the resulting five metre scrum that was awarded near the uprights, and after bashing it up a few times it was eventually the Chiefs loosehead who barged his way over.
Considering how unlikely a try had been up to that point, it seemed safe to assume that the seven point margin would effectively seal the match -- but the Brumbies clearly have a never say die spirit, which has to be a tribute to the coaching staff, and they struck straight back at the Chiefs by surging onto the attack. They set up a few half chances before, with the players retaining possession patiently and impressively, eventually replacement Sam Carter went over under a mass of bodies.
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THREE WINS ON THE TROT
The TMO was asked by the referee to give a reason why the try shouldn’t be awarded, which he couldn’t do, and when Lealiifano kicked an angled conversion under pressure from a boisterous crowd, the 22-all scoreline might have been considered a fair result.
But White will be reminding his charges that you have to play until the final whistle (hooter) of the game, although talking of hooters this was another one of those New Zealand games where the clock at the stadium nearly caused a controversy. The referee had to inform the Brumbies captain that there were still four minutes to go when the ground clock said time was up.
Full marks to the Chiefs for the way they used those four minutes, and the way they never let a poached lineout deflect them. Once they got their hands on the ball they just refused to let it go as the forwards systematically took the ball up before eventually the backs were released on the blindside and Cruden offered Willison the milimetre of space he needed to score from close range.
The win means the Chiefs have now won three on the trot, but they will not look back on the game as one of their finest performances. Indeed, until those last minutes, when it really mattered, they appeared to lack the intensity and urgency of the previous games, and perhaps that had something to do with the energy expended in their two most recent physical New Zealand derby matches.
The Chiefs were never headed much in the match though once Cruden had levelled scores in the 10th minute after Lealiifano’s initial success, with the hosts taking the lead four minutes later before the Brumbies struck back in the 21st. Then the Chiefs hit the front once more in the 27th minute before Lealiifano ensured a 9-all scoreline at the break with another successful kick five minutes from the hooter.
The Chiefs had patches in the first half when they looked like they might be set to take control, but they struggled to get the ball back from the breakdown with the necessary alacrity. In fact, it was the Brumbies who came the closest to scoring in the first half when Michael Hooper knocked the ball on as he went for the line late in the half following a good surge from his fellow flanker Scott Fardy.
Fardy was the best Brumbies player on the field in the first half but was replaced shortly after halftime, presumably because of injury.
Chiefs – Tries: Sona Taumalolo, Jackson Willison. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (2). Penalties: Aaron Cruden (5).
Brumbies – Try: Sam Carter. Conversion: Christian Lealiifano. Penalties: Christian Lealiifano (5).