Crusaders beat Chiefs 27-13 in Super Rugby semifinal

Chiefs James Lowe is tackled by Crusaders David Havili during their Super Rugby semifinal in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, July 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Crusaders David Havili kicks the ball as Chiefs Mitchell Brown attempts to charge it down during their Super Rugby semifinal in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, July 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Crusaders Bryn Hall dives across the line to score a try against the Chiefs during their Super Rugby semifinal in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, July 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Winger Seta Tamanivalu scored two tries against his former team as the Crusaders beat the Chiefs 27-13 on Saturday to reach the Super Rugby final for the 12th time and to move within a match of their eighth championship.

The Hamilton-based Chiefs had an abundance of possession but the Christchurch-based Crusaders showed playoff smarts, siezing a handful of chances to score four tries that propelled them into the final for the first time since 2014.

The seven-time champions will play the winner of Saturday's second semifinal between the Johannesburg-based Lions and Wellington-based Hurricanes as they attempt to win Super Rugby for the first time since 2008.

Tamanivalu touched down twice in the second half and scrumhalf Bryn Hall and fullback Israel Dagg also scored tries for the Crusaders.

All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick scored a late consolation try for the Chiefs, who had a try contentiously disallowed by the television match official at a crucial stage of the first half. The Chiefs were at odds for much of the match with referee Glenn Jackson, a former Chiefs flyhalf and now one of Super Rugby's leading referees.

Against expectations, the Chiefs made most of the play in the first half, forcing the Crusaders into constant defense during which they had to make four times as many tackles as their opponents.

The Crusaders scrambled well in defense and the Chiefs' attempts to turn possession into points were often thwarted by desperate tackling or by handling errors.

"The Chiefs had a lot of ball in the first half and the boys were definitely blowing and the legs were heavy," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said. "But credit to our boys, they were hanging in tough out there through determination and grit.

"We all know that defense is half of the game. The Chiefs held the ball and really attacked us, especially that first 50 minutes, and we knew that if we could weather that storm which could hope to come over the top of them in the end."

After being under almost constant pressure in the first quarter, the Crusaders managed to break out at their first opportunity and to score a try through Hall against the run of play. All Blacks center Ryan Crotty made the initial half-break, thrusting his arms through a tackle and passing to Dagg, who made a long break down the left-hand touch.

Dagg then turned the ball infield to Hall, who ran a perfect line in support, then scampered away for the opening try that gave the Crusaders a 10-0 lead.

The match's most contentious moment occurred three minutes later when Samoa winger Tim Nanai-Williams seemed to score a crucial try for the Chiefs. He dived on James Lowe's infield kick and skidded over the line for a try, awarded by Jackson.

Fullback Damian McKenzie was lining up the conversion when the television referee called a halt and instructed Jackson to disallow the try because Nanai-Williams had knocked on in the act of scoring.

Captain Aaron Cruden, playing his last Super Rugby match before quitting New Zealand rugby, said the TMO was mistaken and "it was a try any day of the week."

"Rugby's a momentum game and we thought we created a lot of chances, had momentum at times, but you've got to give credit to the Crusaders," Cruden said. "They're a great side, they scrambled really well, and when it looked like we had them on the ropes, they were able to do just enough to hold us out."

The Chiefs were also assertive at the start of the second half but the Crusaders gradually took control.

Flyhalf Richie Mo'unga made a tackle on Lowe that popped the ball into the hands of Dagg, who scored an opportunist try that turned the tide of the match.

Tamanivalu then scored in the 57th and 72nd minutes to make the lead 27-6 before Retallick's late try.

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