It should have been a classic encounter – the champion Crusaders, with sack-loads of experience and an inherent ability to execute a game-plan, against the pace-setting Chiefs, with flair coming out of their ears and a passionate home crowd at their backs.
In reality it was a typical, cut-throat elimination game, with both sides displaying nerves and neither team managing to assert its dominance and look really comfortable at any stage.
But at the end of the day it was the Crusaders’ uncharacteristic inaccuracy, combined with the Chiefs enthusiasm and the X-factor of some of their key players, which determined the outcome.
While the visitors had their share of territory and possession they failed to penetrate a determined Chiefs defensive line, and when they turned the ball over the Hamilton-based franchise ran it from anywhere and everywhere, the ability of Cruden, SBW and Andrew Horrell to break tackles and create opportunities eventually telling.
The Crusaders hung in there though, and it would have been a brave Chiefs fan who was completely confident as the clock ticked down, the Red & Blacks’ undeniable track-record of fighting till the very end an ever-present threat. But they just didn’t click on the night, and the Chiefs were simply hungrier, running out 20-17 winners in a tense, if not particularly memorable semi-final.