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Super Rugby: Chiefs beat Blues 11-8 at Eden Park to make play-offs
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Liam Messam scored a second-half try as back-to-back champions the Chiefs ensured their spot in this year’s Super Rugby play-offs with a hard-fought 11-8 win over the Blues at Eden Park.
Aaron Cruden kicked a first-half penalty to hand the visitors the advantage but Ihaia West levelled the scores shortly after the interval.
Messam then scored the decisive try in the 48th minute when intercepting West’s pass and, while Cruden missed the extras, he notched a penalty on 63 minutes to extend their lead to 11-3.
The Blues ensured a nervy finish when George Moala scored a try with 11 minutes remaining, with West’s conversion hitting the post, but the Chiefs held on for the win.
Going into the clash, the Blues had to beat their opponents by 38 points whilst also denying them a bonus point to give themselves a fighting chance of making the top six and a play-off place.
But Dave Rennie's charges got the job done in the end to keep alive their hopes of winning three straight Super Rugby titles, while the Aucklanders bowed out of the competition.
The Blues set their stall out early in miserable conditions as they snubbed a chance of three points and instead looked for seven with the wind in their favour.
Steven Luatua went close with a carry before back-row colleague Jerome Kaino was denied a score after excellent work from Chiefs scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow, which saw him wrap his boot around the number eight to dislodge the ball out of the Blues man's grasp.
In a fantastic defensive display, the Chiefs held the Blues for 13 minutes before they finally managed to escape their own 22 and they could even have gone ahead on 21 minutes but Cruden's long-range kick dropped short.
But he made no mistake after Francis Saili was penalised for offside and it should have been an eight-point lead soon after when Kerr-Barlow's break set up Tom Marshall with the line at his mercy.
However, the full-back's attempted offload when he possibly could have used the conditions to slide over went forward and Blues survived.
The hosts then had to see out the final four minutes of the first-half with 14 men when Ma'a Nonu was yellow carded for a no-arm tackle on Chiefs outside centre Tim Nanai-Williams.
The second-half saw a change in mindset from the Blues as a 41-point victory was surely not even in their wildest dreams.
West levelled after Messam was penalised and they could have been ahead but for a post denying the fly-half minutes later.
But then came the moment of the match, with Messam intercepting West's pass on halfway before showing pace to get over.
Cruden left the door ajar for the Blues with a conversion miss but crucially for the Chiefs, he was on-target with 17 minutes left as he sent over a penalty from distance to leave the hosts two scores down.
Moala’s try set up a grandstand finish but the Super Rugby holders held on and were deserving winners as they continue the defence of their crown.