The Chiefs secured a fourth successive win over the Crusaders as they ground out a 23-13 victory in Suva on Friday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
In a historic first-ever meeting between the sides in Fiji, the Chiefs produced an abrasive performance to clinch another important result that sees them reclaim top spot from the Crusaders in the New Zealand conference.
The victory also extended the Chiefs’ recent hegemony over the Saders, with the Hamilton-based side having now won eight of their last 10 games against their Kiwi counterparts, including the last four matches.
At the end of the day, the Crusaders will look at their porous defence (15 missed tackles), poor ball security (18 turnovers conceded) and handling errors (12) as key contributing factors to their defeat.
By contrast, the Chiefs will credit a superior kicking game and far more well-measured approach that enabled them to keep the scoreboard ticking over in a wet-weather encounter.
With persistent rain falling during the opening exchanges, the Chiefs did well to withstand an early Crusaders onslaught, with three lineout drives and a scrum from five metres out ultimately coming to naught.
Despite their early domination, the Crusaders banked just three points via the boot of Richie Mo'unga, while the Chiefs then struck from their first real meaningful attack as winger James Lowe collected a well-weighted grubber kick to score the opening try on the quarter-hour mark.
To their credit, but also perhaps to their own detriment, both sides showed a willingness to throw the ball around in the slippery conditions, although it was the Chiefs that made the most of their opportunities.
That fact was aptly illustrated when fleet-footed fullback Damian McKenzie produced a scintillating break from within his own half before slipping a lovely offload to speeding Brad Weber, who went over unopposed to score under the posts.
It enabled the Chiefs to open up a handy 17-3 lead that they looked set to take into half-time, but in a big moment just before the break, the Crusaders created a beautiful breakout try that was finished off by winger Jone Macilai.
It cut the deficit to just seven points, but the Chiefs made a far more industrious start to the second stanza, and McKenzie was able to open up a bit of a buffer when he slotted his second penalty in the 58th minute.
That scoreboard pressure clearly took its toll as the Crusaders twice opted to kick penalties to the corner rather than at posts, and on both occasions failed to come away with any points.
Eventually captain Kieran Read relented and instructed Mo'unga to slot a three-pointer in the 75th minute, and while that could have secured a consolation bonus point, McKenzie converted a last-minute penalty to clinch an important 10-point win for the Chiefs.
Chiefs – Tries: James Lowe, Brad Weber. Conversions: Damian McKenzie (2). Penalties: McKenzie (3).
Crusaders – Try: Jone Macilai. Conversion. Richie Mo’unga. Penalties: Mo’unga (2).
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Mitchell Brown, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Sam McNicol.
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Jone Macilai, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Sean Wainui.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images