Gallant Chiefs win heavyweight Super clash
It took a brave gamble 10 minutes from the end but the Chiefs emerged triumphant from a brutal Super Rugby game in Hamilton, beating the Crusaders 28-19.
Trailing 19-18, the Chiefs were awarded a penalty in the right attacking corner after being denied a try to centre Charlie Ngatai through a TMO decision.
Skipper Craig Clarke turned down the kick at goal and went for a scrum and the Chiefs finally conjured up a set play move that sliced open an otherwise tough Crusaders defence and brought the winning try for second five-eighth Bundee Aki to the delight of the 22,187-strong Waikato Stadium crowd.
The result put the Chiefs firmly in charge of both the New Zealand Conference and the overall competition with an automatic four points to come from their bye next weekend.
If there ever was any doubt about how intense the showdown was going to be the opening exchanges soon put that to rest with some huge defence from both sides and several penalties resulting from a fiery scrum contest.
At the end of the first half the home team had the advantage 15-13, which had been a good omen in every other game they had played this season, always going on to win.
But both the Chiefs' tries came from charge-downs of Crusaders clearing kicks as the chasers appeared to target just outside the kicking shoulder of the kickers.
Cruden got the first charge-down try, blocking Carter's midfield clearance 25m out from the line, regathering and cruising in to score between the posts and add the conversion to make it 7-3 after 12 minutes.
Carter's restart didn't go 10 metres - rare back-to-back errors from the All Blacks star - but the Crusaders recovered and eventually their forwards worked themselves close enough to the Chiefs' line to have a go, flanker Matt Todd powering over low with help from rookie tighthead prop Nepo Laulala in the 18th minute.
Tom Taylor's conversion put the visitors ahead 10-7, but four minutes later Cruden levelled at 10-10 with his first penalty goal and in the 28th minute it was Clarke's turn to charge a clearing kick down, smothering the attempted clearance of winger Tom Marshall on his own line and chasing down the bobbling ball to score.
Cruden missed the conversion from wide out and also failed with another wide-angled penalty attempt after the halftime hooter, while Taylor nailed his second penalty chance in between.
The accurate Taylor put the Crusaders back in front just three minutes after the break with a 41m penalty goal after a no-arms tackle by Ben Tameifuna on Ryan Crotty.
Five minutes later it was Tameifuna penalised again and Taylor made it 19-15 with his fifth successful kick from as many attempts.
Finally the Chiefs got some ball and worked their way onto attack, turning down an early goal-kicking opportunity in favour of a lineout drive, before Cruden kicked his second penalty goal to make it 19-18.
But it wasn't long before the Crusaders came back and exerted enormous pressure on the goal-line, Bundee Aki holding up Read over the line when a try seemed certain.
It seemed just a matter of time before the visting team scored as they camped in the Chiefs' red zone for over 10 minutes but eventually the Chiefs broke out, replacement winger Lelia Masaga scampered onto a kick through down the right flank, it was moved left and standout lock Brodie Retallick slipped a brilliant pass near the line.
Eight rucks later as the Chiefs hammered the opposition line in the right corner the Crusaders were shunted off their own scrum ball, centre Charlie Ngatai looked to have scored but an obstruction was ruled by TMO Ben Skeen and they went back for a penalty where the scrum was.
It seemed a crazy move for the Chiefs to turn down the chance to hit the front with 10 minutes to go via a penalty kick, instead taking a scrum, but Masaga came off his wing to make a brilliant midfield break and from the ensuing ruck Aki scored beside the posts.
Cruden's conversion made it 25-19 to the home side, who then looked to monopolise possession and close the game out.
They trapped the visitors deep in their own half with smothering defence and finally got a penalty with time up which enabled Cruden to deny the Crusaders a bonus point.
Chiefs 28 (Aaron Cruden, Craig Clarke, Bundee Aki tries; Cruden 2 conversions, 3 penalty goals) Crusaders 19 (Matt Todd try; Tom Taylor conversion, 4 penalty goals). Halftime 15-13.