The Crusaders returned to winning ways when they inflicted a 32-19 defeat on the battling Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.
It was always going to be an uphill battle for the winless Chiefs against the table-topping Crusaders, but they fought valiantly for the majority of the contest despite being on the receiving end of the 50-50 calls throughout the 80 minutes.
The Crusaders did not take kindly to the defeat they suffered by the Hurricanes in Christchurch last week and inflicted their wrath on Warren Gatland’s struggling charges. From the outset the Crusaders looked tuned in, and although the Chiefs were able fight back well and hang tough throughout the first three quarters of the match, they could do nothing to halt the Crusaders’ surge in the final 20 minutes.
The possession and territorial stakes were almost evenly split, but the visitors were more aggressive on defence and dominated the set pieces – particularly the scrum. The Crusaders, though, did not have the upper hand at the breakdown where Chiefs flank Lachlan Boshier had a field day, notching several crucial turnover penalties for his side.
Be that as it may, the Crusaders raced out to a 12-point lead courtesy of two tries, the first originating from a well-executed sequence of play down the short side and the second coming after a patient 15-phase attack.
— Crusaders (@crusadersrugby) August 1, 2020
At that stage, with the Chiefs falling off tackles so easily, the Crusaders looked to be on course for a big win. But the Chiefs found a way back into the contest with a 10-point haul via a converted try by the impressive Boshier and a penalty by Damian McKenzie.
With just two points separating the sides and the clock winding down to the half-time mark, a contentious refereeing decision cost the Chiefs dearly. With the Crusaders on attack, Chiefs wing Shaun Stevenson stuck out his hand to prevent the final pass from going to hand and he was rightly penalised. But not content to dish out only a penalty, the referee and his linesman called on the TMO for a couple of television replays. Stevenson was deemed to have deliberately slapped the ball down and copped a yellow card for the indiscretion.
With a man up and a minute to go before the break, the Crusaders set a lineout and from there scored a brilliantly executed set-piece try as captain Codie Taylor dove over from the back of an unstoppable driving maul.
Try on the halftime hooter to skipper Taylor… how good! Crusaders passed up a pen shot, and chose a line outdrive and it was a great call. 17-10 @crusadersrugby lead. #skipperscall #CHIvCRU #ForEachOther #SammyDub150 pic.twitter.com/FMgmlK44NH
— Crusaders (@crusadersrugby) August 1, 2020
In a ding-dong battle at the beginning of the second half, McKenzie outkicked Richie Mo’unga three penalties to one as the Chiefs closed the gap to a single point with the game heading toward the hour mark.
But, in another cruel blow to the Chiefs’ chances, the Crusaders were awarded a try – scored by Sevu Reece – despite there being a clear knock-on in the lead-up to the touchdown.
From there the Crusaders pressed on and turned the screws, with Mo’unga pulling the strings and dictating play masterfully. The flyhalf set up replacement Leicester Fainga’anuku for his team’s fourth try, which effectively ended the game as a contest.
The Chiefs had a couple of opportunities for a consolation score, but they were unable to get the breakthrough, allowing the Crusaders to ultimately come away with a comfortable bonus-point win.
Chiefs – Try: Lachlan Boshier. Conversion: Damian McKenzie. Penalties: McKenzie (4).
Crusaders – Tries: Tom Sanders, Will Jordan, Codie Taylor, Sevu Reece, Leicester Fainga’anuku. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (2). Penalty: Mo’unga.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Anton Leinert-Brown, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Bradley Slater, 1 Reuben O’Neill.
Subs: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Simon Parker, 21 Lisati Milo-Harris, 22 Kaleb Trask, 23 Quinn Tupaea.
Crusaders – 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Fetuli Paea, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Sione Havili, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor (c), 1 George Bower.
Subs:16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Billy Harmon, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Leicester Fainga’anuku.
Photo: Getty Images