Cruden's boot proves winner for Chiefs
Co-captain Aaron Cruden didn't need to prove he is the Chiefs' most valuable player but he did anyway.
A piece of magic from Cruden 12 minutes from the end of the Chiefs' second match of the 2014 Super Rugby season brought them a 21-19 victory over the Highlanders at Waikato Stadium on Saturday night.
Not only did he spot Fijian winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma give him a wave out on the right touchline and put across a perfectly weighted wipers kick to him to create Charlie Ngatai's match-tying try, but then he calmly slotted the touchline conversion to put his team ahead for the first time in 37 minutes of play.
Cruden had unusually missed two first-half penalty shots at goal and had two from four record before that kick - his hardest of the night - but it never looked like missing.
He admitted the chip kick to Tikoirotuma had not been the initial plan as the Chiefs attacked wide on the right after a storming run from replacement No 8 Liam Squire on the other side of the field.
"I was actually in two minds," said Cruden. "Some of the boys were calling for it to go through the hands and then I saw Tiks give me a bit of a wave.
"Tiks did really well to get up in the air and contest and then get a ball away to Charlie who was able to get over in the corner."
Ngatai, who started the game at second five-eighth but moved to centre when Andrew Horrell replaced big No 13 Robbie Fruean, said he was initially surprised by Cruden going for the kick, not knowing Tikoirotuma was outside him.
"I was sort of shocked when he put it up and started heading towards the ball and then Tiks got it and the ball ended up in my hands and I scored in the corner," Ngatai said.
Cruden said the enormous belief within the Chiefs contributed to the come-from-behind victory.
"We went into the shed at halftime a few points down but the great thing about this team is we're never out of the fight; we know we can always come back no matter what the score is at halftime, as long as we stick to our processes.
"We were able to do that in the second half, get a bit more pill and put them under a bit more pressure."
Cruden backed up his coach Dave Rennie in describing it as a frustrating game, taking nothing away from the Highlanders who had made it that way.
"But we need to make sure we are a lot better in a couple of weeks here against the Stormers," he said.
Ngatai, who also played centre in last year's grand final win over the Brumbies and often plays fullback for Wellington, said he was well used to playing both midfield positions and loved being on the field in both.
But he said the players all had to look after possession better than they did against the Highlanders, particularly in the first half.
"We were giving them good ball at set-piece, which is hard to defend, and when we got the ball we lost it a bit so we have to cherish that ball next time we get it."
The Highlanders had contributed to those turnovers with an aggressive approach to the game, which knocked the Chiefs off their stride for a while.
"They were doing what we were supposed to do to them, but we changed our mindset in that second half. We just had to buckle up and give it back to them and we did.
"Once we scored that try and the momentum shifted to our side we tried to ride it through to the final whistle," Ngatai said.