The Crusaders finished with a flourish to kick off their title defence with a 45-23 bonus-point win over the Chiefs in Christchurch on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
On Friday, the Super Rugby fraternity was in raptures following the first New Zealand derby of the season, which saw the Highlanders claim a 41-34 victory over the Blues in a cracking contest.
Although the clash in Christchurch wasn’t filled with quite the same eye-catching attack, it was still a highly competitive and captivating affair, with the defending champs ultimately displaying enough composure under pressure to come away with a vital victory.
The Crusaders had taken control of proceedings early on, with tries to Matt Todd, Richie Mo’unga and Jordan Taufua opening up a handy 19-3 lead midway through the first half.
However, the home team’s discipline let them down, with Mo’unga first being sent to the sin bin for a professional foul. Michael Alaalatoa was also shown a yellow card just before the break when his swinging arm connected with the head of Damian McKenzie.
McKenzie – who looked comfortable at flyhalf – shook off the blow, though, and helped set up a late first-half try to Solomon Alaimalo, which suddenly cut the deficit to just two points after Sam Cane had gone over for a superb score earlier on.
The Chiefs’ attacking dominance in the opening stanza was also reflected by the stats, which showed that the visitors had made 277m to 69m, and beaten 13 defenders to four, while the Saders had conceded six penalties.
The Crusaders continued to come under intense pressure at the start of the second half, but two massive scrums initially got them out of trouble, before the Chiefs took the lead for the first time in the game when McKenzie slotted a 57th-minute penalty.
The hosts re-established the lead when Sam Whitelock scored a crucial try soon after, while the result was effectively sealed when the Crusaders were awarded a penalty try after Chiefs replacement Lachlan Boshier committed a high tackle on Ryan Crotty in the act of scoring.
To make matters worse, Boshier was sent to the bin, and in his absence George Bridge and Manasa Mataele scored two opportunistic tries to ensure the scoreline would look rather flattering for the Crusaders.
Crusaders – Tries: Matt Todd, Richie Mo’unga, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock, penalty try, George Bridge, Manasa Mataele. Conversions: Mo’unga (3), David Havili.
Chiefs – Tries: Sam Cane, Solomon Alaimalo. Conversions: Damian McKenzie (2). Penalties: McKenzie (3).
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Peter Samu, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Luke Romano, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Chris King, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Billy Harmon, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Chiefs – 15 Charlie Ngatai (cc), 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Fa’auli, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross.
Subs: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Angus Ta’avo, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Sean Wainui.
Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images