The Crusaders beat the Chiefs 34-20 in Hamilton on Saturday to consolidate their position at the top of the overall standings. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Crusaders remain on track to win the New Zealand conference and finish the regular season at the top of the overall log. Scott Robertson’s side is now nine log points ahead of the Hurricanes in the Kiwi division, and as many as 14 points ahead of the Lions.
How do the Crusaders do it? They’ve overcome setback after setback this season to continue their winning run – which now stands at 10. They lost Ryan Crotty and Sam Whitelock ahead of the recent clash against the Hurricanes, yet still managed to win 24-13.
They lost No 8 Jordan Taufua and inside centre Jack Goodhue in the lead-up to the Chiefs game, and were forced to reshuffle their back row and backline as a result. In the end, the injury-hit Crusaders were still good enough to overpower the Chiefs.
The visitors used their rolling maul to brutal effect. The forwards bossed their Chiefs counterparts to set up two tries in the first half. The accurate kicking of Richie Mo’unga ensured that the Crusaders went to the break with a 20-13 lead.
The Chiefs suffered a setback of their own when All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick left the field at half-time. The Crusaders scrum fired immediately to win a penalty, and the ensuing lineout and rolling maul set the platform for yet another try. George Bridge’s score in the corner boosted the visitors 12 points clear of the hosts.
Luke Jacobson crossed for his second try in the 51st minute, and Damian McKenzie’s conversion gave the Chiefs hope. The hosts blew a big opportunity, though, when they kicked a penalty to touch and then surrendered possession – to Crusaders lock Scott Barrett, who made an important steal – at the ensuing maul.
The Chiefs had another chance to strike in the 68th minute. Once again, the hosts weren’t good enough to make the most of the chance at the lineout. The movement ended in a penalty for the visitors.
Luke Romano powered over from close range to put the result beyond doubt. That late try also denied the Chiefs a losing bonus point. The Hamilton-based side may come to regret that.
The Crusaders head into the June break with a healthy lead at the top of the standings, and thus a great chance of hosting a semi-final and final.
Chiefs – Tries: Sean Wainui, Luke Jacobson (2). Conversion: Damian McKenzie. Penalty: McKenzie.
Crusaders – Tries: Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Matt Todd, George Bridge, Luke Romano. Conversion: Richie Mo’unga (4). Penalties: Mo’unga (2).
Chiefs – 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai (c), 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Mitch Karpik, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Subs: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Jone Macilai, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 David Havili, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Donald Brighouse, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Tima Faingaanuku.
Photo: Michael Bradley/Getty Images