Crusaders keep alive Super 15 play-off hopes
The Crusaders kept their Super Rugby play-off hopes alive with victory over the Chiefs, while the Reds edged the Highlanders.
CRUSADERS 28-21 CHIEFS
The Crusaders kept their Super Rugby play-off hopes alive with a tension-charged 28-21 win over the Chiefs in Hamilton.
The Crusaders leapt out to a 20-6 lead 20 minutes into the game but were reeled in by the hosts and forced to defend grimly in the final minutes to secure the valuable win in a frenetic atmosphere at a packed Waikato Stadium.
Trailing by a converted try, the Chiefs won two penalties after the siren as they hammered the Crusaders defence in a desperate bid to cobble a draw, but were denied when inside centre Sonny Bill Williams was held up on the line.
While Williams might regret not passing out wide to the right where the Chiefs had a three-man overlap, the Crusaders were deserving victors despite having the benefit of a controversial 52nd-minute try awarded by television review.
The win gave the Crusaders valuable breathing space in the wildcard berths for the playoffs, while the Chiefs have already sewn up the New Zealand conference and will contest the post-season.
Number eight Kieran Read gave the Crusaders the early running with a try in the first 10 minutes and fly-half Dan Carter slotted the conversion and a drop goal minutes later.
Luke Romano capitalised on some clever work by scrum-half Andy Ellis who dribbled a kick into his path at the left corner allowing the lock to cross for the Crusaders' second try in the 20th minute.
The Chiefs backs found their line, however, and scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow popped up a perfectly weighted pass two metres out from the line that towering lock Brodie Retallick swooped on and barged over for their first try.
Cruden put the Chiefs within four points at half-time but missed a penalty shot four minutes after the break to release the pressure.
The Chiefs were stunned minutes later when Ellis, brought down short of the line by a Kerr-Barlow tackle, was awarded a try after a lengthy video review.
The hosts regathered, however, as Williams, having been subdued all night, made a brilliant cameo appearance to plant the ball over the line after rolling over a pile of tacklers.
Dan Carter shrugged off a couple of earlier misses to slot a penalty and give the Crusaders a seven-point buffer with 18 minutes to play.
The Chiefs were denied a try on video review six minutes later, when winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma was judged to have planted the ball a fraction too wide at the right corner as he was brought down in a tackle.
The Crusaders called on their formidable defence to close out the match as they consigned the Chiefs to only their third loss of the season.
REDS 19-13 HIGHLANDERS
The Queensland Reds survived a huge scare from the Highlanders, winning 19-13 in an elimination match for the Super Rugby playoffs in Brisbane.
The visitors were keen to send scrum-half Jimmy Cowan off in style in his last match for the team, but their last-gasp bid for the try-line was thwarted by Reds flanker Jake Schatz who forced a turnover after the siren to secure the win at Lang Park.
Schatz poached the ball out of captain Jamie Mackintosh's grasp just shy of the line to end the Highlanders' playoffs campaign but give the reigning champions hope of snatching a wildcard berth in the final round of the season.
"It was very tough, we made it hard for ourselves at times but credit to the Highlanders," scrum-half Will Genia said in a pitchside interview.
"They were absolutely ruthless (at the breakdown).
"It's all about turning pressure into points and we did that."
The Reds need to beat the New South Wales Waratahs at home next week and hope the Wellington-based Hurricanes lose to the New Zealand conference-winning Chiefs in the final round of the regular season next week.
The Durban-based Sharks could still derail the Reds' title defence by winning both of their last two matches.
The Reds dominated possession in the first half but were restricted to a 6-3 lead at the break by a desperate Highlanders defence.
The home side were in control heading into the last quarter, however, courtesy of a 57th-minute try to prop James Slipper, who dived over at the right corner after receiving a smart, flicked pass in tight from lock Adam Wallace-Harrison.
The Highlanders hit back six minutes later through Adam Thomson who barged over right of the posts after being fed by replacement back Aaron Smith.
Substitute front-rower Chris King burrowed over the line in the 75th minute to set up a tense finish but the Reds soaked up fierce pressure on the last line of defence, repelling drive after drive to seal the win.
Doubtlessly relieved to have escaped with the win, the Reds will take more comfort from the form of fly-half Quade Cooper who was back to his mercurial best in his most even performance for the season after coming back from a serious knee injury.