Aaron Cruden kicked 17 points as the Chiefs did enough to see off the Cheetahs 37-27 in Hamilton on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
The All Blacks flyhalf produced a flawless kicking display to guide the Chiefs to their fifth win of the season, while condemning the Cheetahs to their third successive defeat.
The visitors, though, can be proud of their effort, especially in the first half, where they forced the Chiefs into a number of mistakes. However, for the second week in a row, they failed to maintain that effort during the second period, as their scrum came under increasing pressure.
The match started in ominous fashion for the visitors when, following Joe Pietersen's failure to find touch, the Chiefs kept the ball for a minute before a neat Sonny Bill Williams offload put Michael Leitch away for the opening try.
The Cheetahs responded through two Pietersen penalties, the first of which was won after their pack marched a maul 20m deep into Chiefs territory. It was a sign of things to come.
The Chiefs extended their lead after a well-rehearsed midfield move allowed Liam Messam to break away and score their second try, but with the game becoming increasingly fractious, their discipline started to let them down.
The Cheetahs used the spiraling penalty count to their advantage, pinning the hosts deep in their own half, while utilising the rolling maul to milk penalties from referee Craig Joubert. However, the Chiefs failed to change tact and Mike Fitzgerald was sent to the bin for repeated infringements.
With Fitzgerald off, the Cheetahs capitalised with a try through Boom Prinsloo. The Chiefs had reason to feel aggrieved, as Prinsloo looked to have transferred the ball back to Heinrich Brüssow, before regathering and going over uncontested from the front of the maul.
The Chiefs continued to infringe, leaving Joubert with no alternative but to send Ben Tameifuna to the bin and reduce the hosts to 13 men. Pietersen had an opportunity to send the Cheetahs into half-time ahead, but his penalty attempt drifted to the right as the Chiefs held a narrow 14-13 lead at the break.
Two Cruden penalties extended their lead at the start of the second half, before Brüssow pounced on some loose play from the hosts in their 22 to go over for a try and level things up with just over a quarter to play.
It would be as good as it got for the visitors, though, as the Chiefs wrestled control of the match on the back of their dominant scrum. Cruden added another penalty, before Sam Cane went in for the match-deciding try after Brüssow was sent to the bin for a cynical infringement.
The Chiefs wrapped up the bonus-point with a try from Andy Horrell, before Brüssow grabbed a consolation try for the visitors to cap off an impressive personal performance.
Chiefs – Tries: Michael Leitch, Liam Messam, Sam Cane, Andrew Horrell. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (4). Penalties: Cruden (3).
Cheetahs – Tries: Boom Prinsloo, Heinrich Brüssow (2). Conversions: Joe Pietersen (2), Willie du Plessis. Penalties: Pietersen (2).
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tom Marshall, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Michael Fitzgerald, 4 Matt Symons 3 Ben Tameifuna 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Johan Bardoul, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Marty McKenzie.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Rayno Benjamin, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Willie Britz, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Stephan Coetzee, 1 BG Uys.
Subs: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Danie Mienie, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Tienie Burger, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Willie du Plessis, 23 Francois Venter.
Photo: Michael Bradley/AFP Photo