We are down to just two. The Chiefs and the Sharks will contest the 2012 Super 15 final in Hamilton next weekend after two tightly contested semifinals. Both wins were built on the back of tough defence coupled with the ability to strike when it counted and take the opportunities presented to them. It is this that is so often the difference between the top teams, and so, it proved once again.
Chiefs 20 Crusaders 17
Despite finishing as top qualifier in the New Zealand Conference, the Chiefs entered the game as underdogs. The Crusaders were the form team, with a team of superstars and seven championships to their name. It seemed as though they would do what they have done so many times before—come right at the right time of the season and knock over the consistent performers all year.
Not this time.
It was all Chiefs for the first 39 minutes, as their forwards matched the physicality of the Crusaders and got the better of the breakdown. This gave them good ball and forced the Crusaders onto the back foot, where the Chiefs took full advantage.
Two tries and an Aaron Cruden penalty in the first half had the Crusaders chasing the game from then on with the score at 17-6.
But they didn't lie down for them, with Ryan Crotty scoring a try on the stroke of halftime to bring them back into the game.
The second half saw the Crusaders begin to gain dominance as they clawed their way back into the game. But the Chiefs defence held strong and had to make tackle after tackle in the final minutes to ensure they would emerge victors in a thrilling contest.
The Chiefs will now host the Sharks next week in what will be their second Super Rugby final. They will be looking to bury the demons from their only previous final appearance, where they were downed 61-17 by the Bulls in the most one-sided final in the history of the competition.
Sharks 26 Stormers 19
The Sharks have continued their impressive run of late season form and are now just one win away from their first Super Rugby championship.
They came up against the table-topping Stormers, the team with the best defence in the competition and having lost just two games all year; it was always going to be a tough ask.
However, it was the Sharks who gained ascendancy early, controlling possession and territory and getting the better of their opposition up front. The Stormers defence held strong, though, and points proved hard to come by as the teams traded penalty goals to get the scoring underway.
Frederic Michalak kicked a drop goal to take the score to 6-3, before a Louis Ludik try extended the lead. A Stormers penalty on halftime took the half-time score to 13-6, leaving both sides still very much in the game.
It was the Sharks that came out firing after the break, though, and a JP Pietersen try 20 minutes from the end saw the score extended to 23-9. This was telling as from here, the Stormers were always chasing the game and were forced to chance their arm.
A late Stormers flurry made for an exciting finish, but it wasn't enough as the Sharks held on to continue their tremendous run of late-season form.
They must now travel to New Zealand to take on the Chiefs in the final, which will mark their third plane trip across the Indian Ocean in three weeks. This travel takes its toll, and while they may have shown some outstanding form of late, it would be a truly remarkable effort if they were able to get up once more and complete the fairytale next week.
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