The Chiefs clinched their first home semi-final and probably ended the Brumbies’ season in the process with a dour Super 14 victory in rainy Hamilton last night.
A 67th-minute penalty goal from five-eighth Stephen Donald broke a 7-7 deadlock and elevated the Chiefs above the Bulls to the top of the ladder after the opening match of the decisive final round of the competition.
AAP reports that the Brumbies collected a vital bonus point for the narrow defeat to climb into fourth spot but still need a succession of results to go their way to sneak into the play-offs for the first time since winning the second of their Super rugby titles in 2004.
Apart from requiring the injury-ravaged Blues to score an upset win over the Crusaders – in addition to the defending champions not picking up any bonus points in Auckland – the Brumbies are also relying on the lowly Lions beating the Waratahs in Johannesburg and the front-running Bulls accounting for the Sharks in Durban.
Brumbies captain Stephen Hoiles was resigned to missing the finals, despite his side winning five of their seven matches since the accident that claimed the life of teammate Shawn Mackay in Durban midway through the season.
“While we were brave, we probably coughed up too much pill,” Hoiles said.
“To take one point out of it probably won’t be enough. It leaves us in the top four at the moment, but we need a few unlikely results to go our way.”
After racking up their ninth win from their past 10 games, the high-flying Chiefs now have the luxury of sitting back and waiting to see who they will host next weekend for a berth in the May 30 tournament decider.
“We’re absolutely delighted,” Chiefs captain Mils Muliaina said.
“It was pretty tough out there. It wasn’t a spectacle but this is what we wanted to achieve.
“A win’s a win. We’re into that top four now, so what more can you ask for?”
Usually two of the most entertaining sides in the competition, the Chiefs and Brumbies began cautiously, not overly willing to chance their arm.
With the stakes high, the nerves were evident as Brumbies centre Stirling Mortlock – the highest pointscorer in Super rugby history – and Chiefs five-eighth Stephen Donald both missed routine penalty attempts in the first half hour.
The Brumbies finally opened the scoring in the 34th minute through a try to winger Francis Fainifo.
Fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper made the initially bust before kicking ahead, with Fainifo beating his wing opposite, Lelia Masaga, to the ball to score out wide.
Mortlock added the sideline conversion to give the Brumbies a 7-0 lead.
But the Chiefs hit straight back, with Donald capitalising on a 50-metre movement to score and convert in the 37th minute, leaving the game in the balance at 7-7 at the break.
The Chiefs camped inside the Brumbies half for most of the second stanza, with Donald nailing the winning penalty from in front of the posts with 13 minutes remaining.
CHIEFS 10 (Stephen Donald try con pen)
BRUMBIES 7 (Francis Fainifo try Stirling Mortlock con)