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The Gallagher Chiefs’ 2017 season has come to an end at the hands of an impressive Crusaders side, going down 27-13 in a tough and physical semi-final at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.

Despite having very little possession and being forced to defend for most of the match, the clinical Crusaders still managed to produce four tries, to the Chiefs one, to book their spot in next weekend’s Super Rugby final.

The Chiefs got off to a strong start, controlling the opening 10 minutes of the match with plenty of territory and possession, but the Crusaders muscled up on defence to shut them down, which proved to be a theme throughout the encounter.

After absorbing the early pressure, the home side moved swiftly downfield with the Chiefs doing well to keep them out. Eventually a penalty was won as the Chiefs were caught offside defending on their own goal line, and first five Richie Mo’unga was successful with his first kick of the night.

Not long after the restart the Crusaders launched a superb counter attack from their own 22, with several players involved and halfback Bryn Hall the man to take the last pass to score a fine team try.

Trailing 10-0 after the opening quarter of play, the Chiefs needed a quick response and it looked to have come through wing Tim Nanai-Williams who finished off after a neat James Lowe chip and chase, but the try was ruled out by the TMO for a knock on over the line.

They did manage to come away with something to show for their efforts however as fullback Damian McKenzie landed a penalty to get his side on the scoreboard.

Another strong period with ball in hand from the Chiefs saw them build further pressure with the Crusaders successfully defending wave after wave of attack. But with just two minutes left in the half McKenzie managed to land another simple penalty attempt, and the gap was narrowed to just four points.

To end the first half, the Chiefs produced another scintillating breakout from inside their own territory, with McKenzie and Lowe again heavily involved, but the Crusaders scrambled superbly again to deny them, and they went into the break hanging on to their slim 10-6 lead.

After a positive start to the second half, the Chiefs were unfortunate to concede a try at the other end against the run of play. With Lowe looking to clear for touch after a loose pass, the ball was knocked out of his grasp by Mo’unga and Israel Dagg was on hand to collect the ball and score.

The Dagg try seemed to give the home side a lift as they enjoyed the better of the following 10 minutes, but like the first half they struggled to hold onto the ball - until Seta Tamanivalu came into his own against his former team. After initially being held up over the line, the big winger came from the blindside off the resulting five metre scrum to crash his way over the line.

Mo’unga’s conversion took the scoreline out to 22-6, leaving the Chiefs a huge task as the match headed into the final quarter.

Needing to score three times in the final 20 minutes to keep their season alive, the Chiefs began to throw caution to the wind which resulted in some spectacular running rugby but ultimately for little gain as the defence of the home side continued to deny them.

With yet another phase of attack thwarted, the Crusaders set about working their way downfield and, at the end of one of their longest periods of possession in the match, Tamanivalu found a fraction of space on the right hand touchline to touch down in the tackle for his second try.

As the clock wound down the Chiefs didn’t stop trying and were rewarded with two minutes remaining when centre Anton Lienert-Brown burst onto a pass and spun his way into a gap before popping a well-timed pass in the tackle for lock Brodie Retallick to score.

McKenzie quickly added the extras to narrow the deficit to 14, but the Crusaders held possession for the remaining few moments to seal a deserved win.

Gallagher Chiefs 13 (Brodie Retallick try; Damian McKenzie con, 2 pens) Crusaders 27 (Seta Tamanivalu 2, Israel Dagg, Bryn Hall tries; Richie Mo’unga 2 cons, pen) HT: 6-10.

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