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Super Rugby Final: Chiefs second-half comeback stuns Brumbies in thrilling final
The Chiefs completed a sensational second-half comeback to beat the Brumbies 27-22 and retain the Super Rugby title.
Tries from Liam Messam and Robbie Robinson combined with points from the boot of Aaron Cruden saw the Chiefs overturn a 16-9 half-time deficit to become only the fourth team in the history of Super Rugby to win back-to-back titles.
It was the Brumbies who drew first blood in Hamilton, however, as Christian Leali'ifano successfully dissected the uprights twice in the opening eight minutes as the Chiefs faltered in discipline.
The hosts tried to make advances into Brumbies territory, but centre Tevita Kuridrani was wise to the visitors' threat out wide as he made crucial tackles to prevent the Chiefs wingers being brought into the game.
Following a peerless kicking display as the Chiefs beat the Crusaders in the semi-final, fly-half Cruden made a nervy start as his first attempt from the tee sailed to the left. The squandered opportunity proved all the more costly when Leali'ifano struck again at the opposite end of the field to extend the Brumbies lead to nine.
The emphasis soon began to tilt as the Chiefs made strong territory through prop Ben Tameifuna and Lelia Masaga before a more composed Cruden slotted home three penalties in 10 minutes to obliterate the Brumbies advantage and restore parity.
Jake White's men regained the initiative just before the siren when inside centre Leali'ifano expertly intercepted from Hika Elliot before pressing the accelerator as he raced into the right corner to score the opening try of the final. The 25-year-old Wallaby subsequently added his own extras to keep his perfect record from the tee intact as the Brumbies entered the break with a 16-9 lead.
The kicking exchange between Leali'ifano and Cruden resumed after the break as the Brumbies lead reached 10 points, only for the Chiefs to respond almost immediately as the deficit was reduced to single figures once again.
Leali'ifano took his season tally to 233 points to surpass Quade Cooper's previous Australian record and restore the Brumbies 10-point advantage with 20 minutes left to play.
The hosts finally began to find their rhythm midway through the second period as they launched a sustained period of attack on the Brumbies defence. After TMO Vinny Munro denied the Chiefs one try, Messam drove over the line and made sure he touched down to reduce the Brumbies lead to five as Cruden failed from the tee once again.
Suddenly the Brumbies found themselves on the back foot as confusion reigned in the defensive department. Replacement Robinson wasted little time in exposing the frailties as he raced towards the line, unchallenged, to score a second Chiefs try and level the scores before Cruden hit the target as the defending champions took the lead for the first time.
With the tide well and truly turned, the Chiefs continued to stamp their authority on the tie as the Brumbies defence remained in disarray with another penalty allowing Cruden to widen the gap between the sides to five with time running out for the visitors.
Despite spending a week travelling between South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, the Brumbies made the Chiefs fight for every point but could not to seize a late opportunity when a penalty kick failed to reach touch, gifting possession to the hosts who happily ran down the clock.
The Brumbies became mere spectators as Chiefs captain Craig Clarke and man-of-the-match Messam held aloft the trophy with Dave Rennie's men celebrating another year at the summit of Super Rugby.