Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Brave Chiefs refuse to die

Chiefs 27
Brumbies 22

The Chiefs have another title - that's all that really matters. For quite some time last night - nearly 70 minutes in fact - it looked as if they had set fire to their season; appeared as if they had self-combusted in the most spectacular way.

That they did it the hard way, that they had to battle their own demons for so long only confirms what worthy champions they are.

What other side could have stood on the abyss, leant right over, peered down, even dangled one foot over the edge and yet not disappear into the yonder?

The depth of character was incredible. Their ability to find the right plays late in the game after so often coming up with the wrong ones, was testament to their self-belief. The way they scrambled when they were under siege was heroic. The way they somehow managed to throw bodies into the fray when the outcome appeared hopeless was confirmation they really are men with a cause.

The best sides need to be almost zealous; they have a near religious conviction that what they are doing is right and that is all that matters. That's what drove these Chiefs when they were 22-12 down and barely clinging on. Lesser sides would have let the fingers slip off the rail at that point - decide that the die was cast.

Not this crew. Liam Messam smashed his way over the tryline to begin the comeback and then Bundee Aki broke free and Robbie Robinson finished to deliver a five-minute period of history-making rugby.

Finally, the Chiefs were ahead. Finally they could see the finish line - not that Brumbies made it easy for them. They were almost as brave. Almost as good. Almost as inspirational.

But as all of them will be acutely aware - Super Rugby finals swing on tiny margins. Almost doesn't get you anything.

And just as poignantly, the Chiefs will know how close they came to almost throwing it all away.

Until those final 15 minutes, it looked like they had invited everyone to a giant party only to suddenly reveal it was really a wake.

It was a bad night to ram the cork in tight and feel the pressure of the occasion. From Aaron Cruden's wobbly goalkicking, to the panic passing into the rushing traffic, to Sam Cane's fumble under the sticks - the Chiefs were gripped by nerves. Their usual flow, composure and rhythm failed to turn up.

They didn't look like the Chiefs. They didn't really play like the Chiefs and who honestly thought, of all the things that would happen in the final, that the Chiefs would effectively clam up and do their level best to throw it away?

It wasn't a great night to start missing Sonny Bill Williams but, for the first time this year, the initials was conspicuous by his absence.

The Chiefs needed punch and thrust close to the breakdown - a more direct and deadly presence.

Given the Brumbies' travel dramas of recent weeks, the Chiefs wanted to inject tempo, play at the wide reaches to see if old man George Smith still had the lungs to get there. They wanted to bring the Brumbies latent fatigue to the surface - force them into an aerobic contest early with a view to it becoming an anaerobic affair later in the game for the visitors.

It all made good tactical sense but the Chiefs didn't earn the right to play so wide so early. The Brumbies knew the ball was going to go side-to-side, that they would be defending mostly lateral movement hence they could hold a straight line across the field.

They could rush the midfield and pressure the decision-makers. Like blind mice off to see the farmer's wife, the Chiefs lined up to have their tails cut off. Smith was the carving knife much of the time - maybe he would have been exposed at the far reaches of the field - but when the game bumped and ground in no particular hurry, he was a bothersome thing and a half.

There are parking wardens who have been less irritating than Smith. What a warrior. What a player. What a royal pain in the behind he was for the Chiefs.

All of this turned out to be a non-story in the end. An irrelevant narrative to a story that was all about the conclusion and nothing else.

Key moments

Sloppy start overcome

In the game's first 15 minutes, the Chiefs lost possession five times through turnovers and errors while the Brumbies were flawless. The visitors silenced the home crowd and shot out to a 9-0 lead courtesy of three infringements from the Chiefs but the defending champions didn't let the poor start faze them, settling into their work and soon levelling the scores.

Last-ditch defence

Aaron Cruden may have been erring with the boot, having missed two penalties, but he made up for it in fine fashion with a try-saving tackle on Clyde Rathbone. Trailing by seven with 25 minutes on the clock, a second try to the Brumbies would have put a severe dent in the defending champions' hopes of repeating, but Cruden managed to pull down Rathbone with the line in sight.

Marauding Messam

Having just been denied by the video referee with 15 to play, the Chiefs didn't let a held-up call affect them and immediately crossed to pull within five. Liam Messam came off the side of the five-metre scrum and found a big enough hole in the Brumbies' defence to plow through for his side's first try. Cruden missed another kick, but the try gave the Chiefs belief.

Rampaging Robinson

That belief was clear as soon as the Chiefs regained possession. Bundee Aki made a huge break inside the Brumbies' 22, as the Chiefs' backs finally had a chance to show their hand, and Robbie Robinson showed some real pace to level the scores from the next phase. Having fluffed his lines three times, Cruden made the biggest kick of the game to earn the Chiefs' first lead.

Messy Mogg

The Brumbies, behind for the first time all night, needed to show some of the resolve their opposition the Chiefs illustrated in the first half, but Jesse Mogg hardly helped matters by kicking out on the full while under no pressure. That gave the Chiefs the lineout deep in Brumbies territory and, after a break from Augustine Pulu saw Scott Fardy penalised, Cruden made the margin five points.

Chiefs 27 (L. Messam, R. Robinson tries; A. Cruden con, 5 pens), Brumbies 22 (C. Lealiifano try; C. Lealiifano con, 5 pens)

- Herald on Sunday

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