The Chiefs hit back in the second stanza to complete an impressive 25-15 win over the Crusaders in Hamilton on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Chiefs made a statement in this fixture against the reigning champions. They were more clinical at the breakdown and aggressive on defence, and their ability to fight back after conceding two early tries spoke volumes for their character.
The Crusaders spent most of the first half camped deep in Chiefs territory. On the back of a strong forward drive, stand-in flyhalf David Havili found Sevu Reece twice, first with a well-weighted cross-kick and then with a long-spiralling pass.
At that stage, the Crusaders looked to be on course for a big bonus-point win.
The visitors continued to hammer away at the Chiefs’ line. The hosts were more than equal to the task, though, and managed to repel the Crusaders for the rest of the half. The 12-8 scoreline at the break flattered the Chiefs.
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The Chiefs made a statement early in the second stanza when they powered their way upfield and eventually scored through scrumhalf Te Toiroa Tahuriorang. As the hosts took the lead, the Crusaders were forced to reassess their tactics.
The Crusaders turned down several shots on goal in the first half. After conceding the lead in the second, however, they looked to take the points when they were on offer. Havili bisected the uprights to level the scores.
But the Chiefs’ tails were up. Replacement scrumhalf Brad Weber produced a magic offload to put Sean Wainui away for an important try. After being 12-3 down early in the first half, the Chiefs were seven points up with 20-odd minutes to play.
The hosts kept their defensive shape and maintained their physical effort in the closing stages. Flyhalf Aaron Cruden slotted a penalty in the final minute to clinch the victory.
Chiefs – Tries: Solomon Alaimalo, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Sean Wainui. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (2). Penalties: Cruden (2).
Crusaders – Tries: Sevu Reece (2). Conversion: David Havili. Penalty: Havili.
Chiefs –15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Quinn Tupaea, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Sam Cane (c), 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross.
Subs: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Ross Geldenhuys, 18 Ollie Norris, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Pita Gus Sowakula, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Kaleb Trask, 23 Alex Nankivell.
Crusaders – 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 David Havili, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Whetukamkamo Douglas, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Scott Barrett (c), 3 Oliver Jager, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 George Bower, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Cullen Grace, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Leicester Faingaanuku.
Photo: Michael Bradley/Getty Images