Aaron Cruden the winning edge

00:04, Jul 28 2013
Chiefs v Highlanders
Liam Messam tries to avoid the tackle of Ma'a Nonu during his side's opening round win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Patrick Osborne dives over for a try against the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Tawera Kerr-Barlow clears the ball during the Chiefs' win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Gareth Anscombe gets caught in a tackle on his Chiefs debut against the Highlanders.
Gareth Anscombe
Gareth Anscombe goes over to score for the Chiefs against the Cheetahs.
Tim Nanai-Williams
Tim Nanai-Williams tries to evade a tackler.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam on the charge.
Brodie Retallick
Brodie Retallick gets an offload away.
Chiefs
Stormers wing Bryan Habana is tackled during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and the Chiefs.
Sam Cane gallery
Sam Cane charges headlong into the Stormers' defence.
Tanerau Latimer
Tanerau Latimer looks to spread the ball wide.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam charges ahead for the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Kings
Andrew Horrell makes a break for the Chiefs during their bonus point win over the Southern Kings.
Chiefs v Kings
Lelia Masaga makes a run during his triple-try scoring effort against the Kings.
Chiefs v Kings
Hika Elliot in action against the Southern Kings.
Chiefs v Kings
Liam Messam gets his side fired up during his 100th Super Rugby game for the Chiefs against the Southern Kings.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Liam Messam receives a greenstone mere from former Chiefs coach Ian Foster during a special presentation to celebrate his 100th game for the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Liam Messam fans show some love for the Chiefs co-captain's 100th game celebrations.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Richard Kahui makes a break in his return for the Chiefs during their win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Aaron Cruden fends off Highlanders counterpart Colin Slade.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Tim Nanai-Williams is congratulated after scoring the Chiefs' only try in their win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Andrew Horrell comes up just short in his dive for the try line.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Michael Fitzgerald of the Chiefs charges forward during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Richard Kahui of the Chiefs dives over to score a try during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Aaron Cruden with the ball during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Richard Kahui on the charge during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Quade Cooper
The Reds' Quade Cooper is tackled by the Chiefs' Aaron Cruden during their clash in Hamilton.
Bundee Aki
Chief Bundee Aki goes over to score a try against the Reds in Hamilton.
Chiefs gallery
Gareth Anscombe streaks away from the Waratahs defence.
Chiefs gallery
Sitaleki Timani receives a yellow card.
Chiefs gallery
Aaron Cruden spins it wide against the Waratahs.
Chiefs gallery
The Chiefs huddle under the posts after conceding a try to the Waratahs.
Chiefs v Sharks
Bundee Aki dives over for a try during the Chiefs win over the Sharks at Waikato Stadium.
Chiefs v Sharks
Asaeli Tikoirotuma attempts to break through a Sharks tackle.
Chiefs v Sharks
Ben Tameifuna on the charge against the Sharks.
Chiefs v Sharks
Liam Messam helps carry the load against the Sharks in Hamilton.
Chiefs
Gareth Anscombe goes in to score against the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs
Sam Cane (second from left) is congratulated by team-mates after scoring against the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs
Brendon Leonard (right) takes on his opposite number Nick Phipps of the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs
Bundee Aki celebrates after scoring a try against the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs season 2013
Robbie Robinson of the Chiefs competes for a high ball against Kyle Godwin of the Force.
Chiefs season 2013
Ben McCalman of the Force is tackled by Matt Vant Leven during their Round 13 Super Rugby clash.
Chiefs season 2013
Brett Sheehan watches the Force and Chiefs packs contest a scrum.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Tawera Kerr-Barlow spins it wide against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Liam Messam charges into the gap for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Prop Ben Afeaki charges into the open for the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Aaron Cruden gets a kick away under pressure from Hurricanes lock Ben May.
Chiefs gallery
Aaron Cruden goes in to score the opening try against the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery
Tanerau Latimer (left) and Tawera Kerr-Barlow wrap up George Whitelock of the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery
Robbie Robinson in action against the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery
Liam Messam charges ahead against the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery 2013
A see of Chiefs flags welcomes the NZ conference leaders ahead of their game against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs gallery 2013
Matt Vant Leven climbs high to win a lineout against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs gallery 2013
Tim Nanai-Williams attempts to bust through the Hurricanes defence.
Chiefs gallery 2013
Lelia Masaga makes a break against the Hurricanes, with Matt Vant Leven in support.
Chiefs 2013
Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs runs with the ball into defender Tom Marshall of the Crusaders during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs runs with the ball during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs celebrates his try with Ben Tameifuna during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013
Ross Filipo of the Chiefs tackles Dan Carter of the Crusaders after a kick in the Crusaders in goal during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Blues
Andrew Horrell in action for the Chiefs in their regular season finale win over the Blues.
Chiefs v Blues
Ben Tameifuna on the charge for the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Blues
Bundee Aki scores at full stretch against the Blues.
Chiefs v Blues
Aaron Cruden converts a try during the Chiefs' win over the Blues.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Liam Messam takes on the Crusaders defence.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Asaeli Tikoirotuma is downed by Owen Franks.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Fans in full voice as the Chiefs take on the Crusaders.

Destiny seemed to be flowing for the Crusaders.

As squads composed of entirely different players have done in the past, the Crusaders found title-winning form when it mattered, first, against the defending Chiefs in Christchurch, and then against the Reds, to the point where some people saw the semifinal in Hamilton last night as almost a formality.

Of course. A team like the Chiefs would fold, wouldn't they? A squad coached by men with the mana and football nous of Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith, captained by a player with the courage of Craig Clarke, and playing in front of a home crowd at the most intimate rugby ground in New Zealand, was always going to be easy meat. And if you believe that let's also say that in Hamilton they regard drinking Waikato Green as unmanly, and ringing a cow bell is considered a sign of deviant behaviour.

Aaron Cruden
TOP MAN: Aaron Cruden celebrates with Liam Messam.

For reasons hard to understand there was a school of thought at the start of the season that the Chiefs would be lucky to reach the playoffs, much less retain the title.

With Sonny Bill Williams gone, some starry eyed experts suggested, the Chiefs didn't have the X-factor to hit the heights of 2012.

After reducing the Reds to an embarrassing state of indecision last week, this time the Crusaders struck men who contested the breakdowns, who made big tackles, and whose only signs of finals nerves were a series of wayward lineouts.

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And they struck Aaron Cruden.

Unlike last week's no-contest with Quade Cooper, the great Dan Carter faced a No 10 last night wanting to be involved in the play, doubling up behind his backline, dropping back at times to field long kicks, but never using the backfield as a place of refuge.

Ewen Mackenzie may be a Cooper fan, but in his heart of hearts he would know that the Wallabies would suddenly become a true force in Bledisloe Cup games if he had a player with Cruden's grit and gifts.

Off the field, Cruden would never stand out in a crowd. In a game dominated by men who are basically giants he's normal sized, and not notably muscle-bound.

But physically he's surprisingly strong for his size, and, as Wayne Smith said to me early in the year, "There's steel in Aaron."

In the Chiefs' awards during the week, Cruden won the coaches' award for best player, the fans' award for best player, and would, no doubt would have cleaned up if there had been another 20 categories to place him in.

When the Crusaders have run away with matches the tight five have given their 8/9/10 strike force a fast, forward moving platform to work from.

Give, as we saw last night, an attacking genius like Israel Dagg, just the hint of open space, and he'll turn the opportunity into points.

But last night the slog up front was grim, and, most importantly, it was even.

Winning a turnover against the swarming Chiefs forwards was as hard and painful as fossicking in a wasps' nest with bare hands.

You know with a kicker like Dan Carter on the field the score will be close, but in the end the prize was close, but not close enough.

The loss in the final in 2011 was devastating to the Crusaders, but it's possible last night's will hurt even more.

There were good logical reasons for the Crusaders to go into the game as favourites.

But logic didn't worry the Chiefs, and on the evidence of this performance the worrying should be done by whoever they face next Saturday.

Waikato