Chiefs beat Sharks 24-22 in Super Rugby
Flyhalf Aaron Cruden kicked three second-half penalties to break a 15-15 halftime deadlock and steer the Chiefs to 24-22 over South Africa's Sharks in Super Rugby on Friday.
Cruden took up the goalkicking duties after conceding them to fullback Damian McKenzie in recent matches, possibly in response to concerns from the All Blacks selectors over the poor goalkicking form of other flyhalf candidates.
He landed four penalties and a conversion - four goals from six attempts - doing just enough to keep the Chiefs' noses in front in a struggle with the Sharks, who scored three tries to two.
The Chiefs' seventh straight win kept them atop the table at the start of the 10th round, while the Sharks ended their New Zealand tour with two losses and a win over defending champions the Highlanders.
In Perth, Australia, the Pretoria-based Bulls had a 42-20 win at the home of the Western Force to move into a share of first place in the South Africa 1 conference with the Stormers.
Chiefs captain Sam Cane described his team's win as "fractionally ugly" and it was in keeping with recent performances from the tournament leaders, in which they have overcome flawed performances to keep their winning streak alive.
They shocked the Sharks with a try in the first minute when center Seta Tamanivalu sawed through a huge hole in the visitors' midfield to touch down near the posts.
The Chiefs went on to open a 15-3 lead after 23 minutes with a try to bustling No. 8 Michael Leitch, who was their most industrious player. But the Sharks took advantage of the Chiefs' inaccurate kicking game to fight their way back, scoring twice from lineout drives to level the match at halftime.
First, prop Kyle Cooper was driven over in the 28th, then young flyhalf Garth April scored his first Super Rugby try, stepping through lax defense after another lineout drive put the Sharks hard on attack.
Cruden nudged the Chiefs to 24-15 with penalties. Again, the Sharks refused to bow down and struck back in the 72nd with a lineout drive that produced a try to Chiliboy Ralepelle.
The Chiefs turned down a late chance for a shot at goal and eventually ran down the clock.
"It was a grind, and you only have to have watched a bit of the Sharks to know that's what they're about," Cane said. "We're very pleased to get the win, albeit fractionally ugly, but that's what you've got to do against tough teams."
The Sharks were frustrated that they let possible wins over the Blues and Chiefs elude them.
"When we look at the tape, our discipline probably let us down a bit," Sharks captain Keegan Daniell said. "We let them off the hook at crucial times. We've come away with six points from this tour so we'll look back and say, 'We'll take six,' and regroup when we get back home."
The Bulls led the Force 18-13 at halftime in Perth before pulling away in the second half. Inside center Jan Serfontein and hooker Adriaan Strauss crossed for two tries each, and Hanro Liebenberg also scored. Francois Brummer kicked four conversions and three penalties before the Bulls conceded a late try to Kyle Godwin.