Chiefs 25
Crusaders 15

When the Chiefs hosted the Crusaders in Hamilton tonight, Warren Gatland's toothy grin told the tale of the tussle.

Another impressive second-half performance from Gatland's Chiefs saw them turn around a halftime deficit, and beat the defending champions 25-15.

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While the scoreline didn't necessarily reflect it, this was a dominant showing for the Chiefs. Early lapses might have cost them, but for the best part of 60 minutes, the Chiefs overpowered the Crusaders across the park.

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However, there were positives for the Crusaders, with their attack showing promising signs early despite the absence of their general Richie Mo'unga.

The Crusaders took a page from union's sister code early, hitting the ball up the middle and working to pull in the defence before kicking or throwing a long skip pass across the field to a man on the wing – usually Sevu Reece and usually unmarked.

With the Chiefs slow to find their footing in the game on both sides of the ball, the Crusaders unleashed Reece in space early and two tries to the All Blacks winger gave them an early 12-3 lead after 15 minutes.

Sevu Reece of the Crusaders runs in a try against the Chiefs. Photo / Getty
Sevu Reece of the Crusaders runs in a try against the Chiefs. Photo / Getty

Reece could have had three or more tries in the first half, had it not been from some scrambling cover defence that might not have been pretty to watch for the fans, but did the job for the hosts.

Buoyed by hanging on defensively after some early lapses, the Chiefs got on the front foot and asked plenty of their own questions of the Crusaders. Damian McKenzie had an immediate impact with ball in hand, drawing in multiple defenders to open space wide on the field.

Tested, the Crusaders committed a slew of penalties before McKenzie finally sent Solomon Alaimalo over in the corner to close the gap to five.

That was where it stayed at the break, with the Crusaders unable to make the most of a scrum five metres out on the hooter due to some terrific defensive work at the breakdown from Chiefs rookie centre Quinn Tupaea.

The defensive stop gave the Chiefs a lift, and they came out of the break and went straight onto the score sheet with halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi diving across the stripe from close range to put the hosts ahead.

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It was Tahuriorangi's last involvement in the game, with Brad Weber replacing him after the try. Tahuriorangi had been terrific across the park, and Weber followed suit.

Weber was inspirational in the second half, coming up with a big turnover at one end before producing a bit of magic to send Sean Wainui over untouched to extend the Chiefs' lead.

The positional battle between the two will be one to watch throughout the season as Weber, who was part of the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup squad, has been limited due to All Blacks protocols and played off the bench in the first two games of the season. Tahuriorangi has made the most of his return to a starting jersey, with his high level of play early in the season likely to make it a hard choice for Gatland as to who wears the No 9 when Weber can return to playing 80 minutes per game.

But while Weber was leading the Chiefs' second half surge, the Crusaders slowly faded out of the match. The Chiefs were smothering their attack and playing the territory game well.

Surprise No 10 David Havili made a strong start to the game, he couldn't keep it up – such was the story of the Crusaders' attack.

Reece was barely heard from in the second half, and despite the best efforts of the hard-running Braydon Ennor, the Crusaders found no success with ball in hand in the second half.

While the Chiefs had their struggles – early defensive lapses and mediocre lineout execution among them – it was a convincing performance against the defending champions that firmly cements the Chiefs as title contenders.

Chiefs 25 (Solomon Alaimalo, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Sean Wainui tries; Aaron Cruden 2 cons, 2 pens)
Crusaders 15 (Sevu Reece 2 tries; David Havili con, pen)
HT: 8-12