By CHRIS RATTUE
The Chiefs kept their powder dry after running foul of some referee rulings in their loss to the Crusaders in Hamilton.
There was still the distinct smell of gun smoke in the air, though, in the aftermath of the southerners' win at Waikato Stadium, which was marked by some strange work from the match officials, particularly at lineout time.
The Crusaders got their Super 12 season back on track with an imposing, although not sparkling, win. It was the sort of hard-headed performance that should gladden the heart of their supporters and the All Black selectors.
On the downside, they have lost World Cup hooker Corey Flynn for about a month with a shoulder dislocation. Fellow All Black Mark Hammett has already been ruled out of the Super 12 with a neck problem, meaning Tone Kopelani steps into the breach and another hooker will be added this week.
Test prop Greg Somerville is in doubt for Saturday's match against the Highlanders because of an ankle strain.
Injuries aside, the smiles that greeted Aaron Mauger's late bonus-point try on Saturday night told the story of a champion side which might be finding the forward gears after a Super 12 opening stuck in reverse.
Chiefs coach Ian Foster said his players were their own worst enemies as they squandered a 15-11 halftime advantage.
There are some obvious problems for the Chiefs, especially in defence, where first five-eighths David Hill is ponderous and a target for the run around and second five-eighths Derek Maisey is less than imposing.
Crusaders veteran Andrew Mehrtens was even prepared to point out deficiencies in the Chiefs' defence.
"We found they weren't defending up as well as we expected when we kept going the same way. We weren't doing anything overly intricate."
The Chiefs weren't only in trouble on defence - their ball security was also poor.
Foster said yesterday that the Crusaders "definitely went up a couple of cogs".
"They have certainly sharpened up, the way they played us. But it's not a performance we can be proud of. We had spells in the game that were uncharacteristically bad."
On the subject of the match officials, Foster added: "I'm certainly not blaming the ref ... but we have processes we will work through with [referee] Lyndon Bray. We need to understand his rulings and he perhaps needs to understand my perspective on it.
"I'm very concerned about the rulings at the breakdowns because they seemed to go against us consistently.
"The other thing I'm very concerned about is we had the Crusaders' lineout under a lot of pressure and there seemed to be a number of throws down their side that weren't called."
Foster is certainly within his rights to question those rulings. There were at least three blatantly crooked Crusaders' lineout throws that were allowed.
There was also a touch of controversy in this matter as they involved touch judge Gary Wise, whom Foster labelled "inept" after his poor refereeing of last year's NPC semifinal between Waikato and Wellington.
And whereas the Chiefs were nabbed for sealing off the ball at rucks, there were occasions when Crusaders players appeared to get away with the offence as the visitors enjoyed a 12-5 penalty advantage.
The central figure here was the brilliant Richie McCaw, who is a master at getting his body in position to seal off the ball before he releases his hold when the referee calls a ruck. McCaw was too smart for the Chiefs and Bray on Saturday. The Chiefs' main scavenger, Marty Holah, was often cleverly prevented from getting his hands to the ball.
There were also suggestions around Waikato Stadium that the reputation of the test-laden Crusaders helps them win crucial calls.
Foster's consultation with Bray takes on even more importance, given that he will control their game against the Highlanders in Dunedin in a fortnight.
McCaw and Daniel Carter were among the most influential of the Crusaders, as they pressured the Chiefs into a series of second-half handling errors. Carter made the breaks for two of the three second- half Crusaders tries.
The Chiefs' main moment of glory came via the impressive Sitiveni Sivivatu, who freed the ball in a double tackle to give his wing partner, Lome Fa'atau, a canter to the goal line on halftime.
It was a moment that promised much for the Chiefs, who were perhaps lucky to have a halftime lead, but they could not go on with the job.
They face the Waratahs in Hamilton on Saturday evening with Deacon Manu and Isaac Boss back from suspension and Mark Ranby likely to return frominjury.
But Glen Jackson, with a hamstring injury, is in major doubt. Byron Kelleher and Keith Lowen also need medical checks.
Crusaders 36 Chiefs 15