Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Chiefs pack killer punch to stay alive

The Chiefs celebrate last night's slim victory over the Crusaders.  Photo / Getty Images
The Chiefs celebrate last night's slim victory over the Crusaders. Photo / Getty Images

What a turnaround.

So dominated in Christchurch, this Chiefs victory was engineered by a forward pack determined to put things right, and put things right they did.

They did it the hard way too. Things were getting away from them in the first half, make no mistake.

The halftime score was only 9-3 to the Crusaders, but there were some ominous signs in that final scrum of the half; the Chiefs winning the hit but losing the second shove and almost disintegrating as a result.

Aaron Cruden was beginning to show signs of doubting his ability to find a way through the red and black wall - several of his kicks didn't find space, rather the ever-dangerous Israel Dagg.

To compound matters, their tighthead prop, Ben Tameifuna, a man mountain, did not appear in the second half.

The danger signs were writ large, but Craig Clarke, Liam Messam, Hika Elliot and Co merely shrugged their shoulders and went back to work.

In fact they worked so hard the numbers were beginning to peel from their backs.

Clarke's rampaging run up the middle of the field after he watched Dan Carter's penalty hit the post - a potential turning point in itself - set the tone for the rest of the match.

Where they were smashed to pieces at AMI Stadium - forwards coach Tom Coventry conceding they were a step behind the Crusaders all match, here they were the ones dishing out the hurt. They just refused to allow the Crusaders pack to settle into a rhythm, especially in the second half when they began to scent victory roared on by their home crowd.

Dagg's piece of magic with about 20 minutes remaining tightened things up, but after their previous disappointments here at Waikato Stadium, making up so many points was always going to be extremely difficult for the Crusaders.

The lineouts were a bit ropey for the Chiefs, but they weren't great for the Crusaders either. Where they the Chiefs pack really earned their money was at the breakdown - a rugged place not for the fainthearted. They showed their intent during those first frantic minutes when they retained the ball for more than two minutes. Charging past the breakdown, they distracted and pulled on the jerseys of the Crusaders forwards, making it difficult for the visitors to re-join the defensive line. It wasn't strictly legal, but it was extremely effective and no doubt schemed up during the week at their Ruakura headquarters.

If there was one moment in the first half which would have brought back memories of the shellacking the Crusaders forwards handed the Chiefs in Christchurch a few weeks ago, it was that final scrum of the first half. Kieran Read controlled the ball and managed to squeeze it out to Matt Todd and there the move died. The seed, however, could have been planted. Halftime and some reassuring words from the coaches probably couldn't have come soon enough.

They must have said something right because now they live to do it all again next Saturday night. The backs had a reshuffle for this match but the whole Chiefs pack deserves another go in the big one, injuries permitting, of course. So take a bow Messam, Clarke, Tameifuna, Elliot, Toby Smith, Tanerau Latimer and Matt Vant Leven.

Key moments

Carter's hat-trick of misses

In a first half ruled by the boot, two misses from Dan Carter eventually proved crucial. Although Carter made three attempts to Cruden's one in the first spell, his awful kick from the fourth, as well as a flubbed drop goal after the hooter, were costly - as was his hitting the post from in front to open the second spell.

Tikoroituma intercept

After Kieran Read made a quick break early in the second, it looked certain that the Crusaders would cross for the game's opening try to snatch momentum, but the final pass to Zac Guildford was intercepted by Asaeli Tikoirotuma. The try was saved and, after Steve Walsh came back for advantage, the penalty resulted in nothing.

Chiefs go for the kill

With half an hour left, three points in arrears and having been awarded a very kickable penalty, Craig Clarke opted to kick for the corner rather than take the guaranteed three points. And Lelia Masaga made his captain look like a genius, scything his way through the Crusaders' defence to score the opening try.

Chiefs' tryline stand

You're never as vulnerable as immediately after you score ... it's a cliche usually reserved for football, but the Crusaders had designs on proving it true after Masaga's try. A brilliant break from Zac Guildford was denied by a desperate goal-line tackle from Cruden, before the Chiefs' defence held tough for more than 10 phases until Andy Ellis fumbled.

The dreaded drop goal

It's the stuff of every All Black fan's nightmares: Dan Carter misses a late penalty with his side trailing by one. Fortunately (or unfortunately if you have red and black in the veins), this wasn't the All Blacks and this wasn't the World Cup. But Carter's miss with five minutes left condemned the Crusaders to defeat.

- APNZ

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