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Super Rugby: Chiefs edge thrilling Hamilton encounter to reach final
Defending Super Rugby champions the Chiefs moved a step closer to retaining their title on Saturday as they edged past the Crusaders 20-19 in nail-biting Hamilton affair.
Tries from Lelia Masaga and Aaron Cruden were enough to see the men from Waikato through to their second final in as many years.
In an all New Zealand affair, it was the Crusaders who took the first-half spoils as Dan Carter came out on top a kicking exchange with Cruden. However, both sides turned up the intensity after the break and it was the Chiefs who eventually prevailed.
Following defeat at the hands of the hosts in last year's semi-final, the Crusaders' quest for vengeance started positively as All Black Dan Carter dissected the uprights on two occasions to give the visitors a six-point lead in the opening quarter.
Dave Rennie's Chiefs registered on the scoreboard midway through the first period when fly-half Aaron Cruden successfully converted a penalty attempt from 35 metres before Carter restored the Crusaders lead with a three-pointer of his own.
The defending champions continued to lack discipline at the breakdown as referee Steve Walsh found them offside for a second time in 10 minutes but Carter was unable to maintain his perfect record from tee as his fourth effort sailed wide.
Todd Blackadder entered the interval the more comfortable of the coaches with his side holding a 9-3 lead while Rennie was left cursing a Chiefs pack which conceded five line-outs in the opening forty minutes.
The Chiefs luck appeared to turn after the break as Carter's penalty kick ricocheted off the upright before Cruden reduced the deficit to three from the tee.
With the tide turning, Chiefs captain Craig Clarke burst through two tackles and charged towards the line, only for Israel Dagg to get home and prevent the try being scored.
The men from Christchurch remained on the racks as the relentless Chiefs attack persisted and was duly rewarded when winger Masaga powered his way across the line with a show of brute force to score the opening try of the match. Cruden subsequently added the extras as the hosts took the lead for the first time.
Cruden continued to play a central role as the Chiefs asserted their authority on the tie with the midfielder racing through the Crusaders defence before touching down under the posts to give himself an easy conversion as his side took an 11-point lead.
Despite conceding 17 points without response in the second half, the Crusaders remained defiant and reaped their rewards when full-back Dagg picked up the ball on the right wing before racing around Asaeli Tikoirotuma to complete a sensational try. Carter slotted the conversion from the sideline to make it a four-point match with 20 minutes left to play.
If the atmosphere in the Waikato Stadium was not hot enough already, it soon reached boiling point as Carter nailed a penalty kick to reduce the Crusaders' shortfall to one.
With the Crusaders in all-out attack, the Chiefs remained resilient as Carter's drop-goal attempt sailed wide of the posts with the siren fast approaching. The Christchurch-based franchise had time for one last attack but were thwarted with seconds left on the clock as the Chiefs turned over and fired the ball into the stands to seal their place in the 2013 final.
The Chiefs will now face either the Bulls or Brumbies, who take to Loftus Versfeld later in the day, next Saturday in Hamilton with the Super Rugby title at stake.Super 15. Click here to bet.