Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Chiefs show grit to stun Crusaders

Robbie Fruean of the Chiefs is tackled by Nafi Tuitavake of the Crusaders during the round two Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images.
Robbie Fruean of the Chiefs is tackled by Nafi Tuitavake of the Crusaders during the round two Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images.

Chiefs 18
Crusaders 10

As a statement, this is about as good as it gets from the Chiefs.

Missing a host of players, most notably loose forwards Sam Cane and Tanerau Latimer due to injury, plus All Black halfback Tawerau Kerr-Barlow from the reserves bench just before kick-off, they resembled a rubber band as they stretched, expanded, and then flung all of that energy back at the Crusaders at AMI Stadium in Christchurch tonight.

Second best at scrum time, a bit shaky as usual at lineout time, losing the territory battle, none of it mattered to the two-time defending champions.

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As has become traditional over the past couple of seasons, their defence was outstanding. Cracks appeared late on - the Crusaders laying siege to an exhausted Chiefs' line - but by then it was too late.

About the most effective of Crusaders runners in the first half was George Whitelock, the flanker running intelligent lines with aggression. In the end, Sam Whitelock decided to take matters into his own hands when taking an attacking lineout from 20m out, and running through for a try early in the second half - the Crusaders most direct move of the night.

Once again the absence of the resting No8 Kieran Read was critical for the home team.
Fullback Israel Dagg was well contained, as were inexperienced wings Nafi Tuitavake and Johnny McNicholl. Ryan Crotty showed ability and pace but not enough to worry midfield opposites Robbie Fruean and Charlie Ngatai.

The Chiefs, behind on the possession stakes, seemed able to slip tackles that much easier. August Pulu, Aaron Cruden - especially in the second half - and Fruean were a constant handful.

It was Fruean, almost predictably, who put the first dagger into his former team, running like a locomotive down the left touchline and barging off McNicholl, Tyler Bleyendaal and Richie McCaw. James Lowe, from Crusaders' territory, drove in the second with a runaway try in the final minutes.

For Bleyendaal it was an unhappy night - most notably for his terrible goalkicking, missing all five penalty attempts in the first half - and for that the Crusaders coaches must take responsibility.

Bleyendaal impressed during pre-season and for that reason earned a start at No10 but leaving Tom Taylor on the bench was always going to raise eyebrows for one reason - his accurate boot. Last season Bleyendaal kicked at 57 per cent; Taylor 88 per cent, reason alone to have him on the field from the first whistle, most would think.

Taylor took the field for Bleyendaal in the second half and almost inevitably his conversion for Whitelock's try went over, but he missed a penalty from the same sideline soon after and then another.

This wasn't a pretty match. Mistakes ruled _ the Crusaders missed a total of seven penalties _ George Whitelock and Dominic Bird spent time in the sinbin, with Ben Tameifuna from the Chiefs following suit.

Ben Afeaki and Brodie Retallick went off at the start of the fourth quarter with concussion after clashing heads. There was blood, but happily for them they got the result they were after. A statement first up in enemy territory against the team which thrashed them on the same pitch last year.

Chiefs: (Robbie Fruean, James Lowe tries; Aaron Cruden 2 pens, con)
Crusaders: (Sam Whitelock try; Tom Taylor con, pen)
Halftime: 8-0

- APNZ

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