Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Chiefs wilt under Southern heat

Match goes to the wire as both teams show their class Kieran Read of the Crusaders dives over to score. Picture / Getty Images.
Match goes to the wire as both teams show their class Kieran Read of the Crusaders dives over to score. Picture / Getty Images.

Crusaders 28
Chiefs 21

The Chiefs have threatened all season. They suggested they have the side to take the Super 15 title but they had to convince us.

That test came last night in Hamilton when the Crusaders arrived, a side of rare pedigree but a desperate squad walking a tightrope to qualify for the finals and eager to prove they can still be a force in the playoffs.

Most of the Crusaders were at the same venue a fortnight ago where they thrashed Ireland in the final test of the June series. They were ruthless that night and in a similar mood for much of the start to last night's duel.

Seven times champion and another three times runners-up - no side has the pedigree of the Crusaders since Super rugby opened its professional world in 1996 and they were not about to bow out of this year's tournament. But they had a massive scrap against a Chiefs group who have shaken the tournament to the core.

The Chiefs were put under so much setpiece heat this time that eventually they wilted. Not by much but that continual strain told as the Crusaders 28-21 victory allowed them to think of the playoffs once more.

The Chiefs started with some sting, claiming the kickoff before great snipes from Aaron Cruden and Tawera Kerr-Barlow had them within a sniff of the tryline. It was a rousing start for the 25,000 crowd too but they fell silent as the Crusaders kicked up a gear and started to impose their style on the match.

Zac Guildford was just scragged into touch from a superb Daniel Carter crosskick before the Crusaders carried possession from one side of the park to the other until Kieran Read spied a small avenue and clattered past three tacklers to score. He was fortunate as Kerr-Barlow knocked the ball from the No 8's grasp but he was able to recover.

Carter slapped over a 30m dropped goal to continue the momentum while the Chiefs game started to unravel.

Their lineout was dreadful, they were sloppy with their ball presentation at rucks and the scrum was not quite in sync as the Crusaders test eight ground into their production.

Ill-discipline was upsetting the Chiefs and they lost out again when Andy Ellis cleverly toed the ball infield for lock Luke Romano to follow up and score. With a 20-6 lead the Crusaders were in a mood which suggested they could have taken the match away from the Chiefs then and there. Perhaps a Chiefs side of yesteryear but this lot has far more resolve and class.

They got into the strike zone and made it count. Kerr-Barlow sniped and his pop pass found Brodie Retallick who stretched to plant the ball across the whitewash.

Back to the kickoff and Sona Taumalolo claimed possession and surged downfield. The loosehead prop reached the 22 and when confronted by Israel Dagg, grubbered on to force the fullback to hack the ball dead.

A subsequent Cruden penalty had the hosts just four points adrift at the interval without looking as if they were even close to their visitors in skills and strikepower.

They sagged again after the break when Andy Ellis got the benefit of a contentious TMO decision from Bryce Lawrence for a try but then Sonny Bill Williams, who had rarely been sighted away from defensive duties, unloaded a piece of magic.

He fastened on to a ball, smashed past three in a run and then used his twizzle arm to dot down over a clutch of other tacklers. Cruden missed a handy conversion but with the last quarter to run and without really hinting they were in the game, the Chiefs were only four points shy again.

Could they find some late piece of magic to snatch a draw? They had their moments. In a tangle of defensive bodies, Asaeli Tikoirotuma planted the ball over the line but also into touch.

Another lineout chance was lost but their waves of attack won one last penalty. They tapped and ran, drove and barged but the Crusaders' defensive wall held in dramatic overtime.

- NZ Herald

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 28 Dec 2014 23:17:04 Processing Time: 550ms