JON CARDINELLI watched the Chiefs withstand a typical Crusaders fightback to win 24-19 in Napier.
Following a dominant showing in the first half, this was always going to be the Chiefs’ game to lose. After turning in a powerful performance last week against the Blues, they were similarly impressive at the breakdown on this occasion. They were also surprisingly good at the scrum, unsettling an All Blacks front row to the point where the Crusaders conceded penalties and territory all too regularly.
Flank Liam Messam enjoyed an outstanding match at the breakdown, but it was the Chiefs’ collective fire and precision at the coalface that made all the difference. They also used midfielders Sonny Bill Williams and Richard Kahui to take them further beyond the gainline and stretch what was again an uncertain Crusaders defence.
While it was another shaky showing by the Cantabrians, they showed remarkable guts to stay in touch with a rampant Chiefs side. The visitors led by only 10 points at the break, a scoreline that wasn’t reflective of their overwhelming dominance at the collisions as well as the territory.
Credit should go to the Crusaders for hanging in there in the period before half-time, and then fighting back in the second stanza. They never managed to take the lead, but they chipped away at the deficit.
Despite coughing up possession in promising positions, they remained in the Chiefs’ half and finally earned some reward. A telling breakdown turnover was latched on to by Kieran Read, who subsequently found Robbie Fruean for the finish. At 16-13, the Crusaders were within striking distance.
But the Chiefs hit back in impressive fashion, using their rabid forwards to hammer away at the Crusaders defence. Sona Taumalolo emerged from a pile of bodies and the TMO awarded the try to the visitors. It was a strike that gave the Chiefs some breathing room as the game approached the final quarter.
The Crusaders scrum stabilised with the introduction of Wyatt Crockett in the second half and they began to pressure the Chiefs through a more territorial approach. Flyhalf Tyler Bleyendaal held his nerve to kick some important penalties, and it seemed as if the Crusaders were on the verge of an unlikely win.
But more brutal Chiefs defence pressured the Crusaders into errors, and the hosts certainly didn’t help themselves by making a series of unforced mistakes. The Crusaders also had an opportunity to snatch a late win when Read stuck out a hand for an intercept but failed to gather the ball.
On another day he may have secured the pill and dotted down under the posts, but on this occasion the knock-on was fitting – the Crusaders weren’t clinical enough throughout the contest and didn’t deserve to win. Aside from the lapse after half-time, they Chiefs maintained their intensity and accuracy and were rewarded with the big scalp of the Saders.