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CHIEFS 29 (Sona Taumalolo, Jackson Willison tries; Aaron Cruden 2 cons, 5 pens) bt UNIVERSITY OF CANBERRA BRUMBIES 22 (Sam Carter try; Christian Lealiifano con, 5 pens)
A try in the final minute has handed the Chiefs a win on home soil against a courageous University of Canberra Brumbies team on Friday night.
Played under the picturesque Mt Maunganui on the doorstop of New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, the University of Canberra Brumbies had enough chances to claim a win over the pace-setting Chiefs, but couldn’t overcome a stack of handling errors and some rock-solid defence.
Christian Lealiifano was brilliant for a second week in a row, knocking over six from seven and commanding play around the park. He found himself in similar circumstances to last weekend against the Cheetahs, slotting a conversion to level the scores with just minutes to go.
But the Chiefs managed to rally and grab a last minute try in the corner thanks to centre Jackson Willison, to claim their third win for 2012.
Captain Ben Mowen said he was pleased with the performance, but urged his side to improve when it faces the unbeaten Highlanders in eight days time at Canberra Stadium.
“We feel like we are building something here with this team, that was a tough game and a disappointing way to finish but the talent and commitment is there,” Mowen said.
“There were parts of the game we can take away and be happy with, our forwards were able to get a lot of go-forward and our backs contained their big names nicely.
“But it’s not going to be enough against the Highlanders. We need to head back to Canberra and work hard this week.
“The Chiefs are a good team. They’ll beat plenty of teams this year, but I don’t want us to be happy with coming close.”
In the tightest of arm-wrestles, Cruden and Lealiifano traded penalties for the entire first half with neither team able to take the ascendancy.
The Chiefs star-studded backline of Sonny-Bill Williams, Richard Kahui and Aaron Cruden were nicely contained with the young University of Canberra Brumbies showing patches of their own brilliance, both in defence and attack.
A big hit from Joe Tomane put the Chiefs on the back foot, while Jesse Mogg continued his eye-catching form with some probing runs through Chiefs territory.
While Mogg’s kick-return was again outstanding, many of his best chances were created by Lealiifano, who has stood out as one of the best Australian playmakers at this point of the competition.
Going into the sheds at 9-all, neither side looked likely to run away with a big lead at half time prompting the coaches to keep the glut of the first-half teams on the field.
The second half opened with a try to the Chiefs through big bopper Sona Taumalolo, who barged his way over from close range to give his side the lead. Cruden had a cracking night with the boot landing seven from as many attempts. This one, from right in front, gave the Chiefs a seven-point buffer, but it wasn’t enough to make the University of Canberra Brumbies shut up shop.
Just minutes later the pressure was being applied to the Chiefs line, with Sam Carter eventually finding his way over for a controversial five-pointer.
The TMO took some time to make his decision, keeping University of Canberra Brumbies fans on the edge of their seats. When he finally gave the try, it was up to Lealiifano to calmly take the shot and get his team back in the game.
The final five minutes proved crucial for the Chiefs, with the University of Canberra Brumbies relieving the pressure on the back of unforced errors to give the home side quality field position and time to attack.
Eventually it was Willison who grabbed the five-pointer and with Cruden continuing his sharp goal-kicking, the Chiefs held out to win, 29-22.
University of Canberra Brumbies
1. Ben Alexander (replaced by Ruaidhri Murphy)
2. Stephen Moore (replaced by Anthony Hegarty)
3. Dan Palmer (replaced by Ben Alexander)
4. Leon Power
5. Peter Kimlin
6. Scott Fardy (replaced by Sam Carter)
7. Michael Hooper (replaced by Ita Vaea)
8. Ben Mowen
9. Ian Prior (replaced by Nic White)
10. Christian Lealiifano
11. Henry Speight
12. Joe Tomane (replaced by Zack Holmes)
13. Andrew Smith
14. Pat McCabe
15. Jesse Mogg
16. Anthony Hegarty
17. Ruaidhri Murphy
18. Sam Carter
19. Ita Vaea
20. Nic White
21. Zack Holmes
22. Cam Crawford