The Chiefs landed a critical blow to the Crusaders play-off aspirations with a clinical 26-9 victory in Christchurch. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
It was another statement of intent from the two-time champions, as they outplayed the Cantabrians for the second time this season, running in three tries, while restricting the Crusaders to just three penalties.
The win lifts the Chiefs above the Hurricanes to 32 points, while the Crusaders now find themselves 12 points behind their victors and facing the very real prospect of missing out on a play-off place.
What was even more alarming was the ease with which the Chiefs got the better of Todd Blackadder's side on their home turf. There were moments of brilliance, but by and large, they didn't need to be at their best to come out on top.
The Crusaders failed to trouble the Chiefs' defensive line and were extremely lateral on attack, while their big-name players failed to turn up.
Dan Carter had a day to forget at inside centre, and question marks will arise on his ability to continue to influence proceedings at international level. He missed three relatively easy kicks in the first half, as the Crusaders failed to capitalise on their territorial advantage.
The only negative for the Chiefs was the sight of All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden leaving the ground in the 20th minute following an innocuous injury to his knee. Despite his absence, the Chiefs' variation on attack proved too much for the Crusaders.
It had all started so well for the hosts, with Carter handing them an early lead after Sam Cane saw yellow for a cynical infringement with the hosts on attack. Cruden responded with a penalty of his own, before the Chiefs, restored to a full contingent, took the lead with a Tim Nanai-Williams penalty.
The Chiefs then seized control with a try through Michael Leitch, before the Japanese captain turned provider, winning a turnover before slipping the ball to James Lowe, who raced away unopposed to give the Chiefs an 18-6 half-time lead.
Carter and replacement flyhalf Andrew Horrell traded penalties at the start of the second half, as the Chiefs kept the Crusaders at bay with relative ease.
Liam Squire sealed the victory following some sumptuous work from Tom Marshall and Nanai-Williams, after Carter had failed to find touch with clearing kick.
Crusaders – Penalties: Dan Carter (3).
Chiefs – Tries: Michael Leitch, James Lowe, Liam Squire. Conversion: Andrew Horrell. Penalties: Aaron Cruden, Tim Nanai-Williams, Horrell.
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 David Havili, 13 Keiron Fonotia, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody 18 Owen Franks, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Pauliasi Manu, 19 Michael Fitzgerald, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Bryce Heem.
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images