Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Chiefs go top of the table after edging Crusaders

Chiefs 23 Crusaders 13
Damian McKenzie of the Chiefs fends off Israel Dagg of the Crusaders. Photo / Getty
Damian McKenzie of the Chiefs fends off Israel Dagg of the Crusaders. Photo / Getty

Sleepless in Suva. Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder might have endured a difficult evening after watching his previously table-topping side lose their place along with their bonus point at the end of this match due to Damian McKenzie's penalty after the final siren.

McKenzie's late three points, after Crusaders replacement halfback Mitchell Drummond was adjudged to have held on to the ball when running from a defensive scrum, put the margin of victory beyond seven, therefore the Chiefs banked all four competition points.

It was a deserved result for Dave Rennie's Chiefs, who took their chances well and are back on track after a poor performance last time out against the Waratahs in Sydney. They are used to playing without the ball, and had to tonight. The Crusaders had the lion's share of it, but either turned it over or failed to capitalise.

The men from Hamilton are in pole position in terms of the playoffs with away matches against the Reds and Highlanders to come.

The Crusaders, one point behind, have home matches against the Rebels and Hurricanes.

That No1 spot is still up for grabs, but the Crusaders will feel they let themselves down during this match in Fiji's capital, played in pouring rain at the start. Physically they were slightly off after a furious start, but mentally they didn't seem all there either.

Their tactics in kicking for the corner when 10 points down with 20 minutes to go and then 12 minutes remaining when all they needed to do was keep the game as tight as possible really were strange. Fortunately for them they got another penalty in front with seven minutes remaining, which Richie Mo'unga knocked over. Then came the late intervention from McKenzie, and it was probably poetic justice.

In McKenzie and James Lowe they had the game's two best backs. Brad Weber was good too, and then once Stephen Donald did his bit in the No10 jersey, he made way just after the break for All Blacks first-five Aaron Cruden.

For the Crusaders, hard-charging flanker Jordan Taufua was their best, with their No10 Mo'unga not too far off. The Crusaders were all but done at 17-3, but conjured the last score of the half, as they invariably do. It was a classic - a sweeping move, started by Nemani Nadolo, who chased and caught his own poor kick, and finished by countryman Jone Macilai, with a conversion from wide on the right by Mo'unga.

Nemani Nadolo of the Crusaders is tackled by Seta Tamanivalu of the Chiefs. Photo / Getty
Nemani Nadolo of the Crusaders is tackled by Seta Tamanivalu of the Chiefs. Photo / Getty

They had the upper hand up front, but as so often over the years, they couldn't make it count on the scoreboard. A penalty was their only reward after 19 minutes of pressure and territory in a match played at an intensity typical of the New Zealand derby matches this season.

Many among the capacity crowd of 19,000 queued for hours before kick-off in the pouring rain, and they were rewarded with a match too important in terms of the competition to be considered an exhibition. Some of the tackling by Taufua was a testament to that, as was the blood on the faces on many, including Dominic Bird and Joe Moody.

The Chiefs had gone ahead thanks to Lowe's try, the wing a beneficiary of a piece of subtlety from new All Black Seta Tamanivalu's kick, plus a superb try to Weber, the little halfback following up McKenzie's scorching break from his side of halfway.

In the end those two scores were enough. McKenzie's penalties helped too, particularly the last one.

Chiefs 23 (James Lowe, Brad Weber tries; Damian McKenzie 2 cons, 3 pens)
Crusaders 13 (Jone Macilai try; Richie Mo'unga con, 2 pens)
Halftime: 17-10

- NZ Herald

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