Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Comeback Crusaders edge Chiefs

Gareth Anscombe looks for support in the tackle of Kieran Reid. Photo / Getty Images
Gareth Anscombe looks for support in the tackle of Kieran Reid. Photo / Getty Images

Crusaders 18 Chiefs 17
In a contest to the death, it was the Crusaders who were the last men standing tonight and from appearing to be a bumbling shadow of their former selves, perhaps they are the real deal after all.

Super Rugby in New Zealand is suddenly a lot more interesting. The Chiefs are fallible. Not vulnerable, or dangerously out of touch - just not the side they were last year or 2012.

They showed all their usual bravery and commitment, but they couldn't escape. They couldn't dig deep enough to withstand a sustained second-half assault by the Crusaders who used their pack to inflict all the damage.

Still, the home side took it to the last kick of the game even though, in truth, they had been clinging on for all but a 10-minute period before half-time.

They were also hard done by as the penalty they won in the last minute was initially
awarded in front of the posts on the Crusaders' side of halfway.

When Gareth Anscome came to place the ball, he was five metres inside his own half and as it happened, that made all the difference.

If it had gone over, though, it would have been a bitter pill for the Crusaders to swallow. They deserved their victory. They were more cohesive and consistent than the Chiefs.
They used their lineout to apply the pressure and the backs delivered a better kick-chase game than the home side. And when it came down to it, they showed as much as heart and passion as the Chiefs.

That intensity was a big part of the contest and it laid bare the dichotomy facing the game's administrators: this was rugby as the public want it. There was something in every play and there may not be a more compelling sight all season than that of the shirtless - strangely he did appear to be wearing a bra - Brodie Retallick thundering into three consecutive rucks without regard for his staggeringly white torso.

Every collision was wince-inducing; every lineout was a battle; each scrum was to the max. There were a few dust-ups, some massive tackles, endless adventure and the outcome in the balance to the end.

But the level of commitment came at a cost. There were broken and dazed bodies scattered like confetti. This morning will be a nervous business for the respective coaches, seeing how many of their soldiers can manage to front for breakfast.

When the rugby is that brutal, it's easy to understand why the players aren't so keen on the double derby rounds - once would be enough for them. This contest took both sides to, or possibly even beyond their limits. The intensity was such, that a couple of international sides - Scotland and Italy perhaps - wouldn't have lasted out there.

It wasn't just the physicality or the pace - it was the mental pressure that had to be withstood in waves. It was a game that surged one way then the other.

For the better part of the first 30 minutes it was hard to see from where the Chiefs would muster the inspiration to even stay afloat. They were in danger of swirling down the gurgler - reduced from solid to liquid by a rampant Crusaders pack.

Kieran Read was threatening to be Kieran Read - thunderous in the close quarter stuff and race horse elegant further out. Sam Whitelock and Dominic Bird, almost by their presence alone, had the Chiefs over-thinking the lineout and getting themselves in a tizz.

It was old school Crusaders. Simple, intense and effective rugby that minute by minute saw them build the momentum: build the pressure and rattle the Chiefs.

But just as it felt like the bow of the Chiefs ' ship would soon be dipping beneath the surface, it all changed. Bird went for a spell after a nasty, no arms challenge on Liam Squire that left the Chiefs No 8 in considerable distress. Read had to stagger off after copping a swinging arm to the chops and the Chiefs sensed they could shape themselves an alternative destiny.

The handling errors dried up; the forwards found a metre extra in their ball carries and the backs played that little bit in front instead of that little bit behind the gainline.

The Chiefs suddenly remembered they are the champions. They suddenly realised they were at their gaffe and had no business giving the Crusaders the run of the place.

Penalties came; penalties were kicked and on the stroke of half-time, Tom Marshall cruised down the right wing, stepped inside the one-legged Israel Dagg and turned the game on its head.


Chiefs 17 (T. Marshall try; G. Anscombe con, 4 pens)
Crusaders 18 (C. Slade 6 pens)


- Herald on Sunday

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