Crusaders too strong for Chiefs

Crusaders first five Richie Mo'unga breaks the Chiefs defence. Photo: Getty Images
Crusaders first five Richie Mo'unga breaks the Chiefs defence. Photo: Getty Images
Advantage Richie Mo'unga.

A week removed from outshining incumbent All Blacks No.10 Beauden Barrett, the Crusaders playmaker did not miss the opportunity to do the same against his Chiefs counterpart Damian McKenzie.

Likely vying for the role of Barrett's back up in the opening All Blacks test against France in a week's time, not only was Mo'unga making his kicks, but looked dangerous almost every time he touched the ball in the Crusaders' 34-20 win.

And it wouldn't have been missed by those watching the match. Pre-game drama saw All Blacks on either side have their name scratched from the final team lists.

Sam Cane was replaced by young loose forward Pita-Gus Sowakula on the Chiefs bench, while the Crusaders had a major reshuffle across the paddock after the late exclusions of midfielder Jack Goodhue and No.8 Jordan Taufua. Perhaps a sign the trio are in line for at least some minutes in a week's time.

Mo'unga got himself involved from the outset and, as things progressed, it was clear he was making more of an impact. With more success both running the ball and from the boot, it will be hard for the national selectors to overlook his recent form in choosing their first 23 of the year.

Mo'unga set the tone for his performance early in the piece, nailing a sideline conversion in the fifth minute following a Heiden Bedwell-Curtis try. It wasn't long before McKenzie opened his case for a black jersey, however. The Chiefs' No.10 found winger Sean Wainui with a long, swooping pass for the home side's opener.

The Chiefs found the lead two minutes later after a piece of brilliance from midfielder Charlie Ngatai put the side in excellent field position for loose forward Luke Jacobson to crash over. The lead didn't hold into the break though. Crusaders loose forward Matt Todd crashed over from the back of a rolling maul and the boot of Mo'unga had the visitors leading 20-13 at halftime.

Straight out of the break, it was again the visitors who struck. This time it was winger George Bridge scoring five minutes into the half.

The Crusaders held the ascendency momentarily, but when Jacobson bagged his second for the night, the pendulum began to swing. On the back of Jacobson's second of the night, the Chiefs lifted in their intensity and began to press the visitors.

It became a test of the Crusaders' defence as the hosts found themselves spending meaningful minutes in opposition territory. Backed by a raucous crowd, the Chiefs weren't afraid to throw the ball around heading into the final 10 minutes. Given the physicality of the match, throwing the ball around might have seen a few holes open up.

Unfortunately for the home side, it started to look as though fatigue was setting in as passes were going to ground to let the visitors off the hook.

Replacement lock Luke Romano sealed the win for the Crusaders with a try in the 77th minute as the Crusaders robbed the Chiefs of a deserved bonus point and continued their dominant run.

Crusaders 34 (Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Matt Todd, George Bridge, Luke Romano tries; Richie Mo'unga 3 cons, 2 pens; Mitch Hunt con)
Chiefs 20 (Luke Jacobson 2, Sean Wainui tries; Damian McKenzie con, pen)
HT: 20-13

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