Chiefs book home S15 final
Aaron Cruden (Getty Images)
Hamilton - The Chiefs produced a 17-point burst inside 11 minutes in the second half to eke out a tense 20-19 victory over the Crusaders in Hamilton on Saturday and advance to the Super Rugby final.
The 2012 champions' wing Lelia Masaga barged over early in the second half, while flyhalf Aaron Cruden pounced on a wayward pass from Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty to score an intercept try. Cruden added two penalties and two conversions.
Crusaders flyhalf Daniel Carter slotted four penalties and converted fullback Israel Dagg's sensational try for the visitors.
The Chiefs will now host the final next Saturday against the winner of the second semi-final between the Bulls and Brumbies, who play later in Pretoria (17:05 SA time).
No New Zealand team had lost a Super Rugby semi-final at home and the Chiefs had also won the corresponding fixture in Hamilton last year.
The home crowd let the Crusaders know exactly where they were with a hostile crescendo of cow bells clanging away at every opportunity.
The Chiefs, however, were hardly bovine in their approach, attempting to play the match at a frenetic pace and negating any tussle at the breakdown with players picking and going or immediately feeding the runners one off the ruck.
The Crusaders, however, soaked up the pressure and ensured that when they got into Chiefs territory they came away with points as Carter slotted three first half penalties.
The visitors also unsettled the Chiefs' set piece, stealing five lineout throws and forcing 15 turnovers in the first 40 minutes alone and the home side had only a solitary penalty to Cruden to show for their attacking intent and efforts.
The home side were more clinical in the second half and Cruden's second penalty sparked the 17-point burst that included converted try to Masaga before Cruden pounced on a wayward pass from Crotty to stroll 40 metres for his side's second try.
The conversion gave the home side an 11-point lead with 25 minutes remaining and seemingly with all of the momentum before Dagg ghosted through a gap and beat three defenders for a sensational try that brought the visitors back into the game.
Carter slotted his fourth penalty with six minutes remaining to reduce the gap to a single point before he missed a drop goal attempt with four minutes left.
"That's incredibly disappointing, we came here wanting to get the goods and I'm gutted," Crusaders captain Kieran Read said.
"There are moments in these games that turn them and they probably got the bounce of the ball.
"But you have to give it to the Chiefs, it's their moment and they're doing it well."
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
Substitutes: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Mike Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 August Pulu, 21 Bundee Aki, 22 Robbie Robinson
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Substitutes: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Luke Whitelock, 19 Richie McCaw, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Adam Whitelock