The Crusaders remain unbeaten after a 24-31 derby win over the Chiefs at the ANZ National Stadium in Suva in Fiji.
The match was played in front of a full house of 20,000 plus locals, who roared the Crusaders to victory in a seven-try thriller, with Richie Mo’unga, kicking 16 points.
The Chiefs raced to a three-try 17-13 half-time lead. However, the Crusaders scored 15 unanswered points before Aaron Cruden’s 72nd-minute try, reduced the gap to 24-28.
Cruden’s off day with the boot, coupled with some poor handling, saw the Saders to their twelfth consecutive win this season.
Mo’unga kicked two early penalties to give his team a six-point lead before the game’s first try, as both sides looked to get the better of the early exchanges.
On 20 minutes, Tim Nanai-Williams scored after Damian McKenzie, taking the ball at first receiver, passed wide, taking out two players, to Anton Lienert-Brown. The centre collected the ball on
The centre collected the ball and gave a wonderful inside pass to Cruden. The first-five went through the hole, drew George Bridge to send Nanai-Williams away in the corner.
Four minutes later, James Lowe crossed after Cruden’s kick bounced over Bridge’s head, was regathered by Lowe, who kicked the ball over the try-line, beat the covering defender, and scored.
Cruden missed his second conversion attempt, but the Chiefs led 10-6. It was, however, a short-lived lead.
The try was somewhat controversial; taking the TMO some time to decide if Heiden Bedwell-Curtis’ try should stand. Owen Franks was a lucky man because he could have been called for obstruction in the build-up to the score.
After a sweeping move, Jack Goodhue, who made the initial break, sold a dummy, was tackled by McKenzie but got his offload away to Bedwell-Curtis, who scored under the posts.
Mo’unga’s conversion gave the Crusaders a 10-13 lead. The game was see-sawing, with handling errors, the only impediment to the two teams scoring at will.
The Chiefs hit back immediately when Kane Hames barged over from close range. This time, Cruden did manage to find his range, as the teams went into the break at 17-13.
That would be the last points for the Waikato franchise for the next 31 minutes. Their handling was poor, Cruden’s out-of-hand kicking was wayward and they leaked penalties and tries at regular intervals.
David Havili finished off a sensational, end-to-end, Crusaders move.
Seta Tamanivalu broke down the sideline after gathering Havili’s pass after Mo’unga’s collected a stray kick and started a counter-attack from deep in his half.
Lowe missed his intercept attempt, Tamanivalu passed Goodhue, in support, and the centre sent the fullback away.
Mo’unga missed the conversion, but the Crusaders had the lead – one they would not give up. And soon, they scored their third try.
Mo’unga ghosted through a massive hole, sent the pass to Manasa Mataele, who was stopped short. Ben Funnell picked up at the base of the ruck and dived over in the corner, for his fifth Super Rugby try.
The touchline conversion and another mo’unga penalty, extended the Crusaders’ lead to 11 points with just under 10 minutes to play.
The Crusaders’ defence had been immense up to that point, not giving the Chiefs any opportunities to threaten the scoreboard or make a remarkable comeback.
But, eventually, the line was breached, and from first-phase play from a scrum.
The Chiefs had a scrum inside the Crusaders’22, Liam Messam picked up the ball at the base of and sent a flat pass to Cruden. The flyhalf stepped inside a defender and dived over to score.
McKenzie took over kicking duties and his conversion brought the scores to within four points. Although, it was not enough for the Chiefs.
Mo’unga kicked a late penalty to finish off the game, much to the delight of the many Fijians, who were donning the famous red and black jersey in the stands.
Final score: Chiefs 24 (17) Crusaders 31 (13)
Tries – Nanai-Williams, Lowe, Hames, Cruden
Con – Cruden, McKenzie
Tries – Bedwell-Curtis, Havili, Funnell
Pen – Mo’unga (4)
Con – Mo’unga (2)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Ref 1: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Ref 2: Paul Williams
TMO: Shane McDermott
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Sam McNicol, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Peter Samu, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Vernon Fredericks, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele