Clinical Cruden secures tight win for Chiefs
May 10, 2013
Nick Cummins and his Western Force team-mates were on the wrong end of a tight contest yet again
© Getty Images
For the first time this season, Aaron Cruden has kicked the Chiefs to a victory with a 22-21 win over Western Force in Pukekohe on Friday night.
Despite a healthy penalty count and holding a considerable amount of possession, the Chiefs were only able to take a 19-11 lead into half-time.
Early penalties were traded in the second half before Pat Dellit scored his second try to reduce the deficit to one.
However, as they had done throughout the season, the Chiefs found their character when it was called upon. The forwards combined to ensure they outmuscled their opponents at scrum time, resulting in a yellow card to Kieran Longbottom with nine minutes to go.
Cruden kicked five penalties and a conversion for a personal haul of 17 points, while Jayden Hayward kicked all but five of his side's 21 points.
The win cements the Chiefs as the top-ranked New Zealand side. The win also ensured they secured top spot over the Brumbies, who have a game in hand.
The hosts' backline injury woes worsened ahead of kick-off, with first fly-half Gareth Anscombe ruled out until after the international window with a broken toe.
Any nerves milling through ECOLight Stadium about the fullback's absence were heightened when Pat Dellit scored what looked to be a dubious try within the opening five minutes. A poor pass from Force No. 8 Ben McCalman appeared to have dribbled forward before reaching the right winger, who grubber kicked through to score beside the posts.
Referee Mike Fraser consulted video referee Vinny Munro, who found no evidence of a forward pass and subsequently confirmed the try to the disappointment of the Pukekohe faithful.
Nevertheless, the Chiefs responded strongly. Some poor Force discipline gifted the side seven straight penalties, and Cruden certainly cashed in.
Aside from four penalties, Cruden was also called on to convert a slick try to Lelia Masaga in the corner in the 14th minute. A quick phase saw the ball travel swiftly through the hands of Brodie Retallick and on to Masaga, who scored to give his side a 10-5 lead. They scored a further two penalties to go on a 16-point streak before the Force broke through with two penalties of their own.
Aaron Cruden kept the Force at Bay with a haul of 17 points off the boot (video available in Australia only)%]
It gave the hosts an eight-point lead, and one they would traditionally kick on from. However, the hosts were anything but secure in the opening quarter. With a number of reset scrums and a deteriorating surface, the Chiefs were left to rue a number of breakdown penalties that allowed the visitors back in the game.
In the end it was a burst from Nick Cummins that gave the visitors the spark they needed. Dellit later scored to reduce the deficit to one.
Longbottom's yellow card with nine minutes to play should have ended the contest, especially when the Chiefs found themselves securing a scrum five metres from the Force's try line.
A mistimed throw from replacement hooker Mahonri Schwalger closely followed by a breakdown penalty gave fly-half Sias Ebersohn an opportunity to win the match. However, his kick was well wide and the Chiefs held on for a tense win.
The rolling maul is becoming an increasingly potent attacking weapon. Conor O'Shea looks at the difficulties of stopping it
The news of James Horwill, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Dan Carter's respective transfers will open the floodgates, writes Tom Hamilton
Kiwi coaches can be found far and wide across the globe, and Murray Mexted believes the All Blacks benefit every bit as much as their rivals
Clermont, Toulon, player burnout, Sam Burgess and a farewell to Adams Park - Monday Maul looks back at the weekend's action