The Chiefs continued their unbeaten start to the season with a convincing 40-16 win over the Crusaders in Hamilton on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Vodacom Super Rugby champions in two of the last three seasons, the Chiefs are rediscovering the form that made them the dominant franchise in the southern hemisphere. Aaron Cruden was back to his influential best outside of the impressive Augustine Palu as the Chiefs ran in five tries to the Crusaders' sole effort from Andy Ellis.
The damage was done during the first 40 minutes as they imposed their game on the hapless Crusaders and capitalised to the tune of three tries through Sonny Bill Williams, Pulu and Charlie Ngatai. Their set piece work was economic, while they dominated the physical exchanges, making metres almost at will.
The Crusaders started strongly, and led early through two Colin Slade penalties, but that would be as good as it got for the visitors. They were uncharacteristically bullied at the breakdown, while gaps appeared in their fringe defence. On attack they were ponderous, and missed the strike-running ability of Nemani Nadolo and Robbie Freuan, who left the field early with a forearm injury.
It was a clinical performance from the Chiefs. Every visit to the opposition's red zone garnered points, whether through the boot of Cruden or from their dangerous outside backs. South African sides, though, would be wise to note it wasn't all fancy offloads and width passing.
They earned the right to go wide through Liam Messam and Williams, while their kicking was smart, made all the more effective by their chasers. They piled players into the breakdown area and, when they won the ball, their transition into attack was swift and effective.
The victory saw them move level on points with the Hurricanes at the top of the New Zealand conference, while the Crusaders remain near the foot of the table after their second defeat from their first three matches.
Chiefs – Tries: Sonny Bill Williams, Augustine Pulu, Charlie Ngatai, Tom Marshall, James Lowe. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (3). Penalties: Cruden (3).
Crusaders – Try: Andy Ellis. Conversion: Colin Slade. Penalties: Slade (3).
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Liam Messam (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Mike Fitzgerald, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Johan Bardoul, 20 Sean Polwart, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Seta Tamanivalu.
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Robbie Fruean, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Richie McCaw, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Alex Hodgman, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Nathaniel Apa, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images