Chiefs deny Crusaders at the death
Chiefs deny Crusaders at the deathSHARE
The Chiefs started the defence of their Super Rugby title with a scratchy 18-10 win over the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday.
It required an injury-time intercept try to secure the points – and deny the Crusaders even a bonus point – but the Chiefs deserved it if only for their brave defence.
Depleted by cramps and injury, they hung on desperately as the Crusaders dominated possession and territory in the final quarter.
But it matters not how it was achieved. Four months from now all that will matter is that they took four valuable league points away from Christchurch.
The Chiefs' set pieces were a real mess in the first half, but the Crusaders' inability to turn their opportunities into points – including five penalty misses by Tyler Bleyendaal – allowed the visitors to stay ahead on the scoreboard.
The Crusaders replaced their goal-kickers at half-time – as Tom Taylor came on for a misfiring Bleyendaal – and they started to work their way back into the game.
However, Taylor was only marginally more successful than Bleyendaal with the boot and in the end the home team had missed seven kicks at goal.
And the Crusaders' handling errors also mounted up at an alarming rate, especially on attack inside the Chiefs' 22.
Conditions did not help either, as players went down with cramping like 10-pins – the Chiefs forced to field a replacement hooker at flank to just make up the numbers.
The Chiefs opened the scoring in the 10th minute – Robbie Fruean getting the first try after making Johnny McNicholl pay for a very poor clearance kick. The Chiefs showed they counter-attacking ability as Liam Messam fed Fruean on the left hand side and the big former Crusaders centre beat three defenders to charge over.
The conversion was wide, but three Tyler Bleyendaal penalty misses later and a yellow card to Dominic Bird for repeated infringements at the breakdown saw Aaron Cruden add a penalty for a 8-0 lead.
Then Ben Tameifuna joined Bird in the bin – also not heeding the referee's call to stop infringing at the breakdown.
Bleyendaal missed his fifth shot at goal and the Chiefs took that eight-point lead into the break.
Cruden went close, but lost the ball in the tackle a metre from the line early in the second half.
Bird had hardly returned when the Crusaders were down to 14 again – this time George Whitelock going to the naughty-boys chair for repeated infringements at the breakdown. Cruden made it 11-0.
The Crusaders finally got on the board in the 48th minute – Sam Whitelock exploiting some sloppy defence at a line-out to sprint 20 metres to the line for his team's opening try. Tom Taylor, on for Bleyendaal at the break, landed the conversion – 7-11.
However, Taylor was wide with two penalty shots in the next 10 minutes, as the Crusaders' kicking woes continued.
The Chiefs, relying on their defence to hold on, saw Taylor eventually landing his second kick in the 75th minute – making it a one-point game (10-11).
However, with time up on the clock and the Crusaders looking set for a match-winning try, replacement James Lowe intercepted and ran 90 metres for the try that sealed his team's win.
Cruden added the conversion to deny the Crusaders even a bonus point.
Man of the match: Richie McCaw, as was to be expected, was involved in so much of the game – although not all of his actions were legal and contributed to the warning and later two yellow cards for repeated team infringements. Robbie Fruean also made a big impact early – coming back from heart surgery and produced a power play that showed the quality of the man. Chiefs captain Aaron Cruden stamped his authority on the game early in the second half with a couple of great breaks. However, it was his work on defence that made him our choice as Man-of-the-match.
For the Crusaders:
Try: S Whitelock
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Fruean, Lowe
Pens: Cruden 2
Yellow cards: Dominic Bird (Crusaders, 36 – repeated infringements at the breakdown), Ben Tameifuna (Chiefs, 39 – repeated infringements at the breakdown), George Whitelock (Crusaders, 45 – repeated infringements at the breakdown)
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Reynold Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nafi Tuitavake, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 George Whitelock, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Rob Thompson.
Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden (captain), 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Tevita Koloamatangi, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Ben Afeaki, 19 Matt Symons/Liam Squire, 20 Nick Crosswell, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Andrew Horrell/Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 James Lowe.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Mike Lash (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Watt (New Zealand)