Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Chiefs start with compelling victory

Seta Tamanivalu on his way to the tryline during the Chiefs' win over the Crusaders. Photo / Getty
Seta Tamanivalu on his way to the tryline during the Chiefs' win over the Crusaders. Photo / Getty


So fortune does favour the brave. In a thumping, compelling contest that had a bit of everything, the Chiefs came away with a vital win on the back of their greater sense of adventure and better all round attacking game.

This was a dog fight to the death and while the rugby wasn't always slick, it never lacked for excitement. It was engrossing - exactly the sort of rugby that Sanzar wants to see competition-wide but most likely never will because quality like this doesn't stretch across the board.

It is beyond dispute that the New Zealand Conference is going to be different. It is going to be bruising and intense - way tougher and more brutal than anything else.

As it happened: Crusaders v Chiefs

Similar to the game at Eden Park between the Blues and Highlanders, the rugby in Christchurch was high impact, relentless, if not always polished and flowing.

Both sides were typically rusty for this time of year but they didn't lack for passion or commitment. No one bottled anything up and there were multiple flare-ups as a consequence.

Andy Ellis and Aaron Cruden began a feud early in the first half that never settled and any chance they got to niggle each other they took it. Each skirmish ended with everyone piling in and the emotions grew more intense as the game wore on.

The All Black selectors won't mind seeing that level of feeling this early in proceedings and they would also have been encouraged to see a few familiar faces and some emerging talent put an early marker in the ground.

Cruden, despite his vendetta with Ellis, made a polished return where his footwork and acceleration were all on show and of such quality as to believe his serious knee injury from last year has robbed him of nothing.

Damian McKenzie was the most dynamic and energetic presence at fullback for the Chiefs and his willingness to run and back himself was impossible not to like.

And the Chiefs needed to rely on their ball players and decision-makers to do the damage because they couldn't beat the Crusaders up front. They couldn't go over the top of them so they had to find ways to go round them.

The Crusaders scrum was a fearsome weapon. Joe Moody obviously liked the rewards that came his way last year as a result of getting himself fit and clearly continued to train the house down after he returned from the World Cup.

With Owen Franks working just as hard on the other side of the scrum and a hefty boilerhouse of Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett adding extra power, the Chiefs were in big trouble.

They couldn't match the power or intensity and all of the Crusaders first half points came - one way or another - from scrum dominance.

It might be a bit old school to build a gameplan on scrum power, but it remains, even in this age of frenetic activity around the tackled ball, a valid means by which to intimidate, score points and win games.

It helped no end that Kieran Read was at No 8 and making plenty of good decisions to ensure the superiority was converted. He wasn't originally going to be available for the opening two games but changed his mind after he felt remarkably sprightly at training.

Whatever he had been doing, certainly appeared to have been good for him as he got through 80 minutes with no signs of it being too much.

In the end, though, the Crusaders' physical dominance wasn't enough. They didn't have quite the same variation, awareness or adventure as the Chiefs. And not did they have the same impact from their bench.

Crusaders 21 (R. Mo'unga, D. Havili tries; R. Mo'unga cons, 3 pens)
Chiefs 27 (S. Stevenson, S. Tamanivalu, D. McKenzie, S. Cane tries; D. McKenzie pen, con; A. Cruden con)

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