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Chiefs rally to beat Brumbies in Super Rugby final

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The Canadian Press
8/3/2013 9:36:10 AM
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HAMILTON, New Zealand -- The Chiefs retained the Super Rugby title after scoring two second-half tries to come from behind to beat the ACT Brumbies 27-22 in the final on Saturday.

Backrower Liam Messam scored a 62nd-minute try and fullback Robbie Robinson added another six minutes later as the Chiefs came from 22-12 down to edge out the Brumbies, who were attempting to win their third Super Rugby crown and first in nine years.

Wallabies inside centre Christian Leali'ifano scored a try, added the conversion and kicked five penalties to score all of the Brumbies' points, guiding them to a 16-9 lead at halftime.

But the Brumbies wilted in the last quarter after having played in South Africa in the semifinals last weekend, and the Chiefs became the first back-to-back champions since the Bulls in 2010.

The Chiefs played poorly in the first half in the face of a strong, composed and well-organized Brumbies team, which was well prepared by 2007 World Cup-winning Springboks coach Jake White. Though they travelled more than 23,000 kilometres in the two weeks before the match, the Brumbies looked sharp and energetic until the final minutes of the match.

Leali'ifano's converted try in the last moments of the first half gave the Brumbies a deserved halftime lead, and they were still the better, more constructive team through the first 20 minutes of the second spell.

The Chiefs were plagued by errors and struggled to develop the momentum they needed to strongly press the Brumbies defence. But again, in the statistical keynote to their season, they managed to score tries even when deprived of a steady supply of possession. No team in the competition had less ball throughout the season and none scored more tries.

Messam, from an attacking scrum, then Robinson from an opportunistic midfield break, scored tries that turned the match in the Chiefs' favour. The champions edged ahead with Aaron Cruden's conversion of Robinson's try, then made their lead five points with another penalty to Cruden eight minutes from fulltime.

That was just enough to allow them to hold out the Brumbies' frantic finish and set up a cacophony of cow bells, the instruments with which fans in this dairy farming region signal their approval.

"It was tough," said Messam, the Chiefs' co-captain who won the man-of-the-match award. "We had to grind it out and really play for 80 minutes. The Brumbies really took it to us, and I was proud of the boys that we didn't get frustrated and managed to get the win.

"They frustrate the heck out of you and get points. We needed cool heads going into the second half, and we came home strong."

Leali'ifano scored the first points in the fifth minute after flanker Peter Kimlin broke strongly out of defence on a long run that forced the Chiefs to scramble back in defence. Leali'ifano added another more testing penalty two minutes later from 35 metres and a wide angle.

Cruden missed a chance to reduce the margin from a penalty in the 19th minute, and Leali'ifano soon kicked his third goal.

"They matched us tonight and congratulations to them," Leali'ifano said. "I was hoping (the Brumbies' try) would be a bit of a match-turner.

"But the Chiefs came back and kept fighting and fighting and the same with our boys. We stuck in their right to the end, but just couldn't come up with the result."

Cruden kicked penalties in the 23rd, 26th and 32nd minutes to bring the teams level at 9-9 only 12 minutes after the Brumbies had enjoyed a 9-0 lead.

From a Chiefs' lineout in the 39th minute, Leali'ifano swept onto a loose pass, claimed an intercept and dashed more than 30 metres through tattered defence to score a try that was upheld on review.

After halftime, Leali'ifano kicked his fourth penalty and fifth goal of the night to make the score 19-9. Cruden replied almost immediately, adding his fourth penalty but the Chiefs remained largely rudderless.

The Brumbies attacked strongly and winger Clive Rathbone sawed through the Chiefs' defence after seizing a short kick by Jesse Mogg in the 54th. Rathbone was brought down a meter from the line and, though the Brumbies carried the ball over the line from an ensuing ruck, they were unable to ground the ball. They led 22-12 after Leali'fano kicked his fifth penalty.

Then the Chiefs' rally began. They wheeled an attacking scrum and Messam dashed drove low though the Brumbies' goal-line defence for a try that cut the lead to 22-17.

Six minutes later, Bundee Aki broke through the defence with a strong midfield run. He was brought down just inside the 22 but the Chiefs quickly won the ball and moved it for Robinson to weave through and score.

Cruden converted to give the Chiefs their first lead of the match at 24-22. He added a penalty - his sixth goal from 10 attempts - two minutes later to make the lead 27-22. The Brumbies needed to score a try to win the match and, though they tried desperately they were held out by tenacious Chiefs' defence.

"We're extremely proud of this group," Brumbies captain Ben Mowen said. "One thing that has been evident right from the start is that every challenge you put in front of them, they take it head on.

"Although we fell short, we fell short to a very good Chiefs side."

Liam Messam and Craig Clarke (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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