The Waikato Chiefs must have been fearing the worst. Trailing by 10 points to the Brumbies, it took Aaron Cruden’s quick triple penalty to kick-start any hopes of second successive Super Rugby 15 crown.
Fans traveling to Hamilton got exactly what they asked for. Despite a 22-point performance from the brilliant Christian Lealiifano, Brumbies were left ruing the chance to replicate successes from 2001 and 2004. Jake White’s men put in a sterling effort, but in the end, they fell to fatigue and the overruling power of Chiefs attack.
How did the home side power through the early trouble to secure a dramatic victory? Let’s break it down.
Overcoming the Unknown
This was certainly a difficult contest to weigh up. The two squads didn’t meet each other in regular season and entered the stadium with an element of the unknown. Chiefs struggled to contain an energetic Brumbies pack at the beginning and were constantly put under pressure that spread across the entire team.
Lealiifano's prolific form was one source of pressure for the Chiefs. As reported by the official Super 15 website, the 25-year-old was the third top scorer after the regular season. Brumbies were keen to utilise his accuracy and opted to lure their opposition into drawing fouls. White’s team kicked for position in the early stages and bypassed a Chiefs attack that finished the regular season with a league high of 458 points.
The Chiefs took a while to adjust, but once they did, momentum began to shift with regularity.
Taking Advantage of Tiredness
Prospects significantly altered when Cruden was able to convert three penalties within 10 minutes. He levelled the tie at 9-9 before Brumbies took advantage of slack defending to score the opening try. Lealiifano latched onto a pass and ensured his team regained the lead, eventually helping his side to a score of 22-12.
It all changed when the Brumbies slowed their play. White’s side have travelled ridiculous miles between South Africa and New Zealand during the playoffs, an odyssey that proved too much in the end. Legs tightened, minds waned, and the Brumbies wilted.
Liam Messam’s burst of pace saw him outrun the opposition's rearguard after a five-meter scrum. He proved Man of the Match for the second consecutive final, as Messam’s try signalled the beginning of an unlikely end for the visitors.
Four minutes later, replacement back Robbie Robinson added to the score with the Chiefs’ second try. Cruden converted and went on to rack up the last of his 17 points in the 72nd minute. At this stage, Brumbies had nothing else to offer and were condemned to a disappointing defeat.
The Power of Experience
Brumbies have improved massively across the past year and enjoyed a run of confidence that saw them beat the British & Irish Lions. Dave Rennie's Chiefs have recent experience of competing for the Super 15 prize and were less erratic in their play.
The early burst of Brumbies energy was a vital sign for the rest of the match. Rennie's men knew their rivals would tire and decided to lap up pressure before launching a full assault on the Brumbies line. Experience of the big occasion, a favourable draw and sneaky tactics provided an advantage that would see the proverbial turtle outrun the excited hare.