Rugby: Crusaders topple Chiefs in epic

Kieran Read of the Crusaders looks to offload the ball during the round 17 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Crusaders at Waikato Stadium. Photo / Getty images.
Kieran Read of the Crusaders looks to offload the ball during the round 17 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Crusaders at Waikato Stadium. Photo / Getty images.

Crusaders 28
Chiefs 21

It's a bit like Statler and Waldorf, strawberries and cream and bangers and mash. The Crusaders and playoffs just go together and they have given themselves an excellent chance after toppling the Chiefs 28-21 in Hamilton tonight.

They need only secure a result in their final game at home against the Force to reach the post-season, something that looks a formality for Todd Blackadder's side.

It was a crucial win for the Crusaders but it has dented the Chiefs' chances of finishing as top dogs. Home advantage is massive in the playoffs and will surely travel to face a desperate Hurricanes side in their final game with the Stormers breathing down their necks.

Regardless, the Chiefs will still feel they are genuine title contenders. They nearly won the game despite giving up a 14-point lead inside 30 minutes and despite a wonky lineout, dodgy scrum and a hugely questionable try awarded to Crusaders halfback Andy Ellis by TMO Bryce Lawrence.

They will feel there is plenty of improvement in them as the season nears a conclusion.
Tonight's match was worthy of a final and most in New Zealand will hope these two sides match up again to decide the competition.

There was drama, thrust and counter-thrust, sublime play, errors and tension. Plenty of tension.

It was unsurprising to see the Crusaders start the way they did - they had to with their season on the line - but it was to see the Chiefs so badly off colour.

A lot of what they did was untidy - they missed touch, lost lineouts, turned over ball at the contact area and even handed quick throws to the opposition - and the Crusaders took advantage.

After half an hour the visitors led 20-6 after tries to Kieran Read and Luke Romano and Chiefs teams of old might have capitulated.

But they hit a switch and dominated the rest of the half. They got back into it courtesy of a Brodie Retallick try, when he collected a clever, short pass from the impressive Tawera Kerr-Barlow and nearly grabbed another when Sona Taumalolo broke from his own half, stabbed a kick ahead and almost embarrassed Israel Dagg as he stumbled with the two chasing the ball - the pill beat everyone and dribbled over the line.

The Chiefs played with more intensity and accuracy but were also expertly guided around by first five-eighths Aaron Cruden who is maturing into a very good footballer.

He sniped at the Crusaders' line, set up others or kept chipping away with a handful of penalties and, at 20-16 to the Crusaders at halftime, it was anyone's game.

The Crusaders did most of the attacking in the early stages of the second half and extended their lead but in controversial circumstances. Ellis looked to have been stopped by Kerr-Barlow as he went for the line only to be shunted over by lock Sam Whitelock.

It was a questionable decision by TMO Bryce Lawrence but only served to ignite the Chiefs. They went on the attack immediately from the kickoff, thanks to a steal by Kerr-Barlow, and Sonny Bill Williams spun in the tackle to score and reduce the gap to 25-21.

A Dan Carter penalty in the 62nd minute pushed the lead out to seven points and, as fiercely as the Chiefs tried to find a breakthrough in the dying stages, the Crusaders' line held.

Blackadder might have lamented his side's attitude in their defeat to the Hurricanes last week but it was spot-on tonight. And that's why they always make the playoffs.

Chiefs 21 (Brodie Retallick, Sonny Bill Williams tries; Aaron Cruden 3 pens, con) Crusaders 28 (Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Andy Ellis tries; Dan Carter 2 pens, 2 cons, dg). HT: 16-20.

- APNZ

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