Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Chiefs assured of home comforts for semifinal

The Chiefs remain in charge of their destiny and are guaranteed a home semifinal. Photo / Getty Images.
The Chiefs remain in charge of their destiny and are guaranteed a home semifinal. Photo / Getty Images.

The Crusaders gave them something to think about but the Chiefs remain in charge of their destiny and are guaranteed a home semifinal.

Whether they will qualify first overall ahead of the Stormers, though, is another matter. They will do so if they beat the Hurricanes in Wellington with a bonus point. But if they win but score fewer than four tries and the Stormers pick up an extra point in beating the lowly Rebels in Cape Town, the South African team will top the table and qualify for a potential home final.

Before that scenario presents itself the Chiefs have other things to ponder, namely fixing a lineout which was shambolic in the absence of Craig Clarke against the Crusaders in Hamilton on Friday night. The scrum was under pressure, too, but appeared to right itself after an initial onslaught from the Franks brothers - Owen and Ben - and the rest of the Crusaders tight forwards.

Todd Blackadder is aware the Chiefs are a different team with their set pieces going backwards and so it proved. The influence of Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams was curtailed until the second half when second-five Williams went through four would-be tacklers and reached out for a try, though he later apologised to his teammates and fans for ignoring a two-man overlap in the final seconds when going for another.

"We will learn from this," Chiefs' coach Dave Rennie said. "We played a lot of the game without the ball, we lacked accuracy and finesse."

A loss, following the defeat by the Hurricanes in Christchurch, would have put the Crusaders in severe danger of missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2001. In that respect, they were always going to be more desperate and that edge showed as they went out to a 20-6 lead before the Chiefs hauled themselves back.

"That was our season gone if we lost. That was the importance we placed on it," said No8 Kieran Read who scored the first try but went off on the hour mark and is in doubt for next weekend's match against the Force in Christchurch with a rib injury.

The weekend's results mean eight teams are still in with a chance of finishing in the top six and thereby qualifying for the playoffs. The Crusaders moved to fourth, the Bulls fifth, Sharks sixth, Reds seventh and Hurricanes eighth.

Although the Stormers have lost only twice this season, they needed a try to wing Gio Aplon to beat the Cheetahs 13-6 and their lack of attacking threats will be a concern.

The Brumbies, leaders of the Australian conference and third overall, battled to beat the Waratahs in Sydney 19-15. A late try to Henry Speight and penalty from Jesse Mogg got them home.

"To be honest, we probably didn't play our best rugby, particularly in the first 40 minutes," coach Jake White said. "I spoke to Rod [Kafer] at halftime and told him it was like we had the jitters during the day."

The Chiefs v Crusaders match was always going to be the most anticipated, but following closely was the Sharks v Bulls in Durban. Perhaps surprisingly, the home side ran away with it to win 32-10, earning a bonus point to leap into sixth place.

The Blues beat a poor Force team 32-9 at Eden Park, the Reds finished the Highlanders' season with a 19-13 win in Brisbane and the Lions beat the Rebels 37-32 in Johannesburg. The Lions, minus their suspended New Zealand coach John Mitchell, went out to a 24-0 lead before the Melbourne side put on 22 unanswered points.

- APNZ

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