Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Spirited Chiefs hold off Crusaders

Patrick Osborne of the Chiefs is tackled by Zac Guildford of the Crusaders during the round 15 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Crusaders at Waikato Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.
Patrick Osborne of the Chiefs is tackled by Zac Guildford of the Crusaders during the round 15 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Crusaders at Waikato Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.

Chiefs 28
Crusaders 19

A match worthy of a final and on this form there is every chance the Chiefs and Crusaders will meet again in the play-offs.

It was pulsating encounter in front of 22,000 at Waikato Stadium tonight; full of thrust and counter-thrust, the result still in doubt until the final minutes.

The Chiefs were deserved winners, thanks largely to their defence. They put in a committed, 80-plus minute performance which gave them first blood in this battle of the two New Zealand heavyweights.

The victory extends their lead at the top of the table and they have the luxury of a certain four points next week due to their bye.

Bundee Aki's try with 10 minutes to go gave the Chiefs their precious buffer and it was probably deserved after he was judged to have obstructed Tom Taylor in the build-up to Charlie Ngatai's disallowed try only minutes earlier.

However, the foundations for this victory were set earlier - in the 10-plus minutes they defended their line as if their lives depended on it. It was a defensive performance which suggested they are definitely in with a shout to defend their title.

After Aaron Cruden's penalty put them to within a point at 19-18 they had to hold out a series of Crusaders attacks which saw Kieran Read denied by a desperate Aki and then again close to the line.

The Chiefs simply waited it out and then swept back on to attack with barely an acknowledgement of all the tackling they had done.

Dave Rennie's men had started the match a little tentatively, as if they didn't know how to go about breaking down a Crusaders defence which has gone to a new level in recent weeks. Their own form hadn't been vintage either, but they were still winning.

They need not have worried too much. Two charge downs provided their first-half tries - Cruden making the crucial block as Carter attempted to clear from under his posts, the Chiefs first-five showing admirable poise to pick up and score.

Lock Craig Clarke was next to cash in, responding to a Matt Todd close-range try with an excellent charge down of his own, this time on Tom Marshall's attempted clearance.

It was a good response from the home team after early pressure from the Crusaders. Todd Blackadder's men had gone about their work in an efficient and workmanlike way, picking up three points after Ben Tameifuna conceded a scrum penalty in his fierce contest against Wyatt Crockett.

The Crusaders didn't panic when they were down 7-3 after Cruden's intervention either. There was a feeling of inevitability when Read signalled for the sideline rather than the posts when presented with an attacking penalty and his forward pack repaid his faith - claiming the lineout and scoring through Todd after a series of surges in which Read played a big part.

The Crusaders held the lead for only five minutes, though, Cruden slotting a penalty and then his skipper Clarke showing extremely good game sense to put pressure on Marshall when the wing tried to clear on his own tryline.

After the break and Taylor put the crusaders in front with his two penalties only for the Chiefs' defensive rearguard and ultimate victory.

Cruden's late penalty denied the Crusaders a bonus point.

Chiefs 28 (Aaron Cruden, Craig Clarke, Bundee Aki tries; Cruden 2 cons, 3 pens)
Crusaders 19 (Matt Todd try; Tom Taylor con, 4 pens)
HT: 15-13

- APNZ

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