Crusaders cruise to win against Chiefs

Michael Alaalatoa of the Crusaders is tackled by Charlie Ngatai of the Chiefs. Photo: Getty Images
Michael Alaalatoa of the Crusaders is tackled by Charlie Ngatai of the Chiefs. Photo: Getty Images

As everyone suspected, the Crusaders are going to be just as hard to beat in 2018 in 2017.

They were able to win a frenetic and bruising opening derby, partly because they were better at the clinical moments in the final quarter and maybe also because they were afforded the benefit of the doubt to be awarded a penalty try with 10 minutes left.

That was a killer for the Chiefs but while there will be mixed views as to whether it was the right call to say Ryan Crotty was going to score before he was taken high by Lachlan Boshier, it certainly wasn't an outrageous decision.

It jumped the Crusaders to a 10-point lead, but as much as the Chiefs may not have liked it, it was a lead the Crusaders looked destined to take with or without a bit of luck.

They were cranking things in that final quarter, making fewer mistakes and controlling things just about as they wanted. That's what makes them so tough to beat and the fact the score blew out in the final minutes was indicative of the mindset of the home side.

They had to weather a prolonged period in the middle of the game when they were under endless pressure. They suffered two yellow cards for high tackles and reduced to 14 men for 20 minutes, they let the Chiefs back in.

Up until then, the Chiefs were an eclectic mix of stunning and quite awful when they attacked.

They opened the game with a supremely clinical play which put Anton Lienert-Brown into a hole and saw them nearly score, only to spend the next 25 minutes playing as if they were giving rugby a go for the first time that night.

That might be how it is going to be with Damian McKenzie at first-five in the early weeks while he settles into his new role.

The Chiefs have thankfully seen that it would be madness to try to deter this young man from following his instincts and playing his natural game. He moves so quickly and has this desire to attack relentlessly that he is inevitably going to make mistakes.

He was at fault for the first Crusaders try when he fired a pass he shouldn't have and there were a few other wild moments.

But so too were there sublime moments. There was real bravery and skill in the way he took the ball so close to the gainline and managed to distribute in the face of the rushing defence.

That was his trump card because a 10 who can hold his own that close to the line can play others into holes which is exactly what happened 10 minutes before halftime.

McKenzie flipped a pass as he was thumped and Sam Cane burst on to it and showed an astonishing turn of pace to make it 40 metres to score.

His opposite, Richie Mo'unga, was a study in contrast. He was patient and one poor decision aside on defence that saw him yellow-carded, he was disciplined.

He played his role well as a facilitator and organiser of the Crusaders' attack and the All Blacks, even at this early stage of the season, will be feeling fairly confident about their options at first-five behind Beauden Barrett.

They will also be greatly encouraged by the form of a few of their key players. Sam Cane was superb for the Chiefs. His workrate was huge and his ball carrying impressive.

Sam Whitelock scored a critical try where he was able to straighten and then crash through three tackles to plunge a giant arm over the line. And out wide, both Jack Goodhue and Lienert-Brown had effective moments where they found space and used the ball well.

Crusaders 45 (M. Todd, R. Mo'unga, J. Taufua, S. Whitelock, Penalty, G. Bridge, J. Mataele tries; Mo'unga 3 cons; D. Havili con)
Chiefs 23 (S. Cane, S. Alaimalo tries; D. McKenzie 3 pens, 2 cons)

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