Back-to-back titles in Hamilton
The Chiefs came from 10 points down to win back-to-back Super Rugby titles, beating the Brumbies 27-22 in the Final in Hamilton on Saturday.
It was a 15-point blitz - two tries, a conversion and a penalty in a six-minute period - that saw the Chiefs retain the title.
For more than an hour it looked like the Brumbies would cause another huge upset, but the Chiefs stuck grimly to an expansive game plan and finally got reward late in the game.
In the first half the Chiefs played too much rugby in their own half and not all of those attacks from deep brought the reward for the high risk - despite shading both territory and possession.
But believing in their structures, they eventually got reward for their attacking game in the final quarter - when it mattered most.
In contrasts the Brumbies relied heavily on their kicking game and rush defence - two typical Jake White traits. The main kickers, Jesse Mogg and Nic White, made sure the Brumbies played the game in the Chiefs' half.
The big problem for the Brumbies was that their early momentum was halted through a string of errors.
They made up for that by sticking to their kick-'n-pressure game and eventually got the reward they were looking for in the form of an intercept try just before the break.
And for another 20 minutes in the second half the Brumbies looked to control proceeding, but when the travel fatigue eventually set in in the final quarter, the gaps started opening up and their kicking game began to falter.
Both teams opted for a long opening sequence of kicks, a mini contest won by the Chiefs.
However, it was a couple of Chiefs errors - first a spilled ball and then a high tackle - that presented the first real scoring chance. Christian Lealiifano slotted a penalty for a 3-0 lead. When Asaeli Tikoirotuma went offside at a ruck soon afterwards Lealiifano made it 6-0.
The Chiefs, still backing their ability to run from deep inside their own territory, eventually won a penalty for offside in the 18th minute - but Aaron Cruden's shot at goal was a shocker.
From the restart the Chiefs were penalised for 'crossing', as they attempted another raid from deep, and Lealiifano made it 9-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Minutes later Scott Fardy was penalised for not staying on his feet at a tackle and this time Cruden found the target (3-9), with a second penalty in the same spot, conceded by Sam Carter, allowed Cruden to narrow the gap to 6-9.
Just after the half-hour mark Nic White was penalised for coming in the side, after the referee had ruled the ball was out. The referee would not/could not offer Ben Mowen a reasonable explanation and Cruden levelled the scores - 9-all.
Scott Fardy won a penalty back soon afterwards, as Andrew Horrell held onto the ball at the tackle, but Nic White was short with a kick from just inside his half.
However, it did not matter not, as Christian Lealiifano intercepted a sloppy pass by the Chiefs and raced 50 metres for the opening try of the match. The TMO did have a few good looks, but awarded the try. Lealiifano added the extras - allowing his team to take a 16-9 lead into the half-time break.
A scrum penalty against the Chiefs early in the second half saw Jesse Mogg take a shot at goal from just under 50 metres out, but he was just wide to the left. However, minutes later Mogg pushed the Chiefs back deep into their 22 and from the resulting line-out the Brumbies won a penalty that Lealiifano slotted for a 0-point (19-9) lead.
Mogg went from hero to villain in a flash, missing a high bomb and from the scramble for the lose ball the Chiefs won a penalty. Cruden narrow the gap to seven points again - 12-19.
Cruden, from virtually right in front, hit the upright after the Brumbies were penalised for offside. The Brumbies would have called 'justice', as minutes earlier they were done a great injustice by a strange scrum call from the referee.
The Brumbies eventually got reward for patiently taking the ball through the phases, incorrect entry at the breakdown by the Chiefs, and Lealiifano made no mistake with the penalty - 22-12.
With just over 15 minutes to go the Chiefs launched their most impressive raid of the game and while their first charge over the line was denied by the TMO, Liam Messam went over from the subsequent scrum - a very simple move in which the left shoulder by the Chiefs opened the gap. Cruden was wide with the conversion attempt - 17-22.
However, the tide had turned and the Chiefs hit the lead with just over 10 minutes left on the clock.
It came from a scrum, after a Brumbies handling error, with Bundee Aki having broken clear and sending Robbie Robinson over - with the replacement having run a great line to go over. Cruden added the extras and a penalty soon afterwards to make it 27-22.
The Brumbies threw everything into attack in the last five minute to salvage a win, but their error count rose and they became their own worst enemies - the Chiefs holding on for the win.
Man of the match: Scott Fardy, as he has been all season, was one of the men doing the invaluable dirty work in the tight exchanges without getting any glory for the flash stuff. George Smith did his usual damage at the breakdown. The Brumbies kickers of Jesse Mogg and Nic White kept the Chiefs deep in their half and forced them into a risky game, but both made too many costly errors late in the game. For the Chiefs props Ben Tameifuna and Toby Smith did so much more than just put their bodies on the line, with their skill and pace invaluable in helping the Chiefs keeping the ball alive with those raids from deep. Then there was the high workrate of locks Brodie Retallick and Craig Clarke. However, our award goes to Chiefs flank Liam Messam - who was the guy who made the biggest difference in that second half, when the Chiefs needed one of their senior players to stand up.
Moment of the match: For a long time it seemed as if the game hard turned on Christian Lealiifano try just before half-time. However, it was the Liam Messam five-pointer 15 minutes from the end - it put the Chiefs back in the game and turned the tide.
Villain of the match: It was such an enjoyable game that there is no need for an award.
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Messam, Robinson
Pens: Cruden 5
For the Brumbies:
Pens: Lealiifano 5
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Andrew Horrell, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Bundee Aki, 22 Robbie Robinson.
Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Clyde Rathbone, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (captain), 7 George Smith, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Fotu Auelua, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Andrew Smith, 22 Joseph Tomane.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro