Force outscored their hosts by two tries to one
The Chiefs were pushed all the way, but managed to hold on for a tense 22-21 victory over the Force in Pukekohe on Friday.
The Perth side outscored their hosts by two tries to one, but it was not enough to down the defending champions who let a comfortable lead slip in the second half.
Both teams made a tentative start to the game, exchanging a series of kicks as they sought territorial dominance. The Force got the first real opportunity of the match and they took it well when a loose pass from Matt Hodgson was toed ahead by Pat Dellit who followed up to score the opening try.
The Chiefs responded by surging into the Force 22 where Cruden was able to slot an easy penalty to reduce the gap to 5-3.
After seeing off another Force foray into their half, the home side took the lead when some slick hands from big lock Brodie Retallick put flyer Lelia Masaga over in the corner for a try which put them 10-3 ahead.
With their tails up, the Chiefs forward pack continued to drive the visitors backwards and forced them to concede a string of penalties, which gave Cruden the chance to stretch the lead to 16-5.
The Force hit back with two penalties of their own from fullback Jayden Hayward to bring them back within striking distance at 16-11.
That sparked the Chiefs into life, and a good run from Bundee Aki in the Force 22 almost resulted in a try, but the home side had to be content with another penalty which saw them take a 19-11 lead into the half-time break.
The Chiefs were first to strike in the second half when Cruden slotted his fifth penalty, and they continued to hammer away at the Force defence but a few basic errors halted their momentum.
After absorbing a fair amount of pressure the Force moved into Chiefs territory where they earned another penalty to keep in touch at 22-14.
With 20 minutes left to play the Force stepped things up and a good break from Nick Cummins put them in the 22 where Dellit was able to get over for his second try which narrowed the gap to just one point at 22-21.
Those ten unanswered points gave the visitors plenty of confidence as they went in search of another big scalp to add to their collection this season, but the Chiefs were determined to make the game safe and spend some quality time in opposition territory.
A series of powerful scrums on the Force tryline eventually resulted in a yellow card for Force tighthead Kieran Longbottom, but Chiefs captain Liam Messam knocked the ball on just short of the line so the Force were able to scramble it away.
With the game hanging in the balance the Chiefs moved back into the Force 22 in search of the killer blow, but it was the Force who finished strongest as Sias Ebersohn had a shot at goal from his own half to try and snatch the win.
Ebersohn came up short, and as a result the Chiefs were able to shut the game down and hold on for a narrow victory.
Man of the match: Big Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick had a very impressive outing, hitting rucks and carrying the ball well throughout as well as putting in plenty of hard work in the tight exchanges.
For the Chiefs:
Pens: Cruden 5
For the Western Force:
Tries: Dellit 2
Pens: Hayward 3
Yellow Card: Kieran Longbottom (71 mins, collapsing scrum)
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Save Tokula, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Charlie Ngatai, 22 Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Ben Jacobs, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Matt Hodgson (captain), 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Rory Walton, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Junior Rasolea, 22 Sam Norton-Knight.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)