Casey Laulala’s double boosted the Crusaders to a 19-13 win over the Chiefs in Christchurch.
This New Zealand derby is hardly ever predictable with the Chiefs proving something of a bogey side for the Crusaders in recent years. On this occasion, the clanging cowbells in the grandstand could not inspire the visitors to a win as the Crusaders maintained control for much of the match.
With the departure of Dan Carter and Robbie Deans there have been questions concerning the Crusaders’ ability to retain the title. Time will tell whether coach Todd Blackadder is the genuine article, but Colin Slade had a solid afternoon at pivot for the men in red and black. The flyhalf created the hosts’ first try with a cheeky chip that was successfully chased by Casey Laulala, and with an impressive all-round performance hot shot Stephen Brett may continue to warm the bench.
Centre Tim Bateman extended the lead just before half-time with an opportunistic try that showcased his deceptive speed. Chiefs wing Lelia Masaga threw a lose pass which Bateman intercepted and ran all of 40m to score.
But Masaga and the Chiefs struck back with a five-pointer that saw the Chiefs right back in the contest at 14-13. The Saders may have been missing Carter but there characteristic composure was ever-apparent as they weathered a determined Chiefs attack. Wave after wave, the hosts held firm, and Blackadder will be pleased the Canterbury franchise have loss none of their grunt in this department.
The Saders had the final say with Laulala adding his second after a sustained period on attack. The conversion attempt by Slade was wide allowing the Chiefs to pick up a consolatory bonus point.
By Jon Cardinelli