Sharks to play Chiefs in Super Rugby Final. By Mark Ella

What a great weekend of rugby which saw two thrilling games in two different countries to finally secure the last teams left in this season’s Super Rugby Championship with the Chiefs to host the Sharks in Hamilton this Saturday. Even though the Chiefs finished the regular season on top of the New Zealand conference and second overall behind the Stormers, most to the money was on the seasoned Crusaders ahead of the Chiefs because of their greater experience in finals rugby. But the Chiefs playing in front of 25,000 fans at Waikato Stadium took the game to the Crusaders who looked jaded after some heavy defence from the enthusiastic Chiefs who hardly missed a tackle all night and winning a close match, 20-17. There was plenty of aggression from both teams early in the match with referee Craig Joubert having to calm both sides down and the first 20 minutes of the match was scrappy as both teams used smothering defence to unsettle the others attack. After 26 minutes the score was tied at 3 all after early penalties to Aaron Cruden and Daniel Carter but continuous pressure on the Crusaders by the Chiefs resulted in the first try of the match to Chiefs prop Sona Tuamololo when he dived just short of the try line to be shunted over by his team-mates to give the Chiefs the advantage and Tuamololo his 9th try of the season. The Crusaders normally like to dictate the way the game is being played but too their credit the Chiefs took the game to them and never really allowed the likes of Carter and Ritchie McCaw to have much influence which was an important factor in winning the game. Their second try in second half came from some sustain pressure when Sonny Bill Williams picked up the football from a ruck and accelerated towards the try line before off-loading to blind side flanker Liam Messam to score which was converted by Cruden to give the Chiefs a handy 17-6 lead with 8 minutes until half time. With most of the play going the Chiefs way the Crusaders had the last laugh in the first half when centre Ryan Crotty scored in the 40th minutes to give the Crusaders some hope going to the break trailing the Chiefs by just 17-11. The second was all about defence and even though both teams moved the football from one side of the field to the othe,r no tries were scored with Cruden adding another penalty to his tally and Carter kicking two more penalties to bring the score to 20-17. Carter had a chance to take the match into extra time with 5 minutes of play left in the match when he attempted a 45 metre penalty goal which by his lofty standards wasn’t such a hard kick. Instead he gave the ball too much height landing underneath the goal posts to send the Chiefs fans into raptures and give the Chiefs a well earned victory in just their third semi-finals appearance. In Cape Town the Stormers ran onto Newlands as firm favourites against the Sharks who travelled back to South Africa after their sterling performance against the Reds in Brisbane last weekend. The Stormers had finished at the top of the South African and Super Rugby ladder so it was expected that they would finish stronger against an exciting young Sharks team particularly in Cape Town where they remained undefeated for this season. But like the Chiefs in Hamilton the underdogs took the lead for the entire match finishing on top of the Stormers 26-19 ably led by 56 test match veteran, Frenchman Frederic Michalak who has a great game. A penalty and drop goal by Michalak gave the Sharks an early lead 6-3 before Louis Ludik jumped higher than Stormers fullback Joe Pietersen to receive a midfield bomb from Sharks fullback Riaan Viljoen at the Stormers 22 metres line to sprint to the try line to increase the lead over the Stormers 13-6 which was the half time score. An early seconf half penalty by Michalak was returned by Stormers No.10 Peter Grant in the 55th minutes which kept them in the game 16-9 but the game was all but over when the Sharks explosive centre JP Pietersen made the best defensive outfit in Super Rugby look ordinary when he sidestepped Stormers lock Eben Etzebeth to take to score to 23-9 after his try was converted by Michalak. Even though Stormers winger Gio Aplon made the score look more respectable when he went on to score the try of the match in the 66th minute, the game was beyond them and the Sharks thoroughly deserved their victory away from home. They now play the Chiefs for the Super Rugby title in Hamilton New Zealand on Saturday in what will be another great match in what has been an exciting year of rugby in this part of the world. Mark Ella

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