The Crusaders have spoiled the Chiefs’ Hamilton homecoming and gained an almighty slice of revenge with it.
A 34-19 victory on Saturday night has the perennial champs back on track in Super Rugby Pacific, in their first outing since their last-gasp defeat to the Chiefs in Christchurch 14 days ago.
On a night where 8789 were welcomed back through the FMG Stadium Waikato turnstiles following the Chiefs’ record seven successive away matches, the home fans left largely disappointed after a five-tries-to-three contest in which two of their side’s All Blacks left the contest injured.
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Lock Brodie Retallick was forced off after half an hour with what looked a left thumb injury, while midfielder Quinn Tupaea limped off on the hour, in what were added blows after the hosts were also without coach Clayton McMillan, due to testing positive for COVID-19 – Stuff understanding that was on Monday.
Director of rugby Warren Gatland stepped in in his place, but could only watch on as the Crusaders powered out from a 15-12 halftime advantage to give David Havili a fitting way to celebrate his 100th match for the franchise.
Substitute Sevu Reece’s wonder try near the hour proved critical, the All Blacks flyer going half the length to open the second-half scoring, and from there the visitors piled on a couple more – Leicester Fainga’anuku burrowing over and Codie Taylor on the back of a drive, either side of a late Cortez Ratima score as the hosts never lost hope, and denied the Crusaders a bonus point.
Sean Maloney and Andrew Mehrtens are joined by Lori Cramer as they talk Super W, Super Rugby Pacific and Six Nations. Seanny and Mehrts have some new jerseys on, the NSW refs sent in pies and Lori offers up a selection for the ‘Weird Cat XV.’
Centre Alex Nankivell was immense for the Chiefs, scoring a first-half double, but the Crusaders proved too strong up front, on the back of an early kicking game which paid dividends and saw them dominate position and possession.
The visitors were forced into a late change when hooker Brodie McAlister was forced up the tunnel during the warm-up with what looked a rolled ankle. That saw Codie Taylor promoted to start, and he went the distance, after a third prop was put on the bench in Fletcher Newell.
Despite a couple of early errors, the Crusaders made the better start, and Cullen Grace opened the scoring in the eighth minute to get them going.
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Either side of his double, Nankivell had a forgettable moment on defence, flying up to allow milestone man Havili to soar round the outside, and put away Will Jordan, who was enormous in this contest the red and blacks were right up for, despite being without the likes of Sam Whitelock, Joe Moody and Braydon Ennor.
THE BIG MOMENT
It had to be Reece’s stunning 58th minute try. Injected half a dozen minutes into the second stanza, the Fijian flyer brought plenty of energy and then some. Here, Havili got on the outside of Ollie Norris, drew Shaun Stevenson then Reece did the rest, going 50 metres as he dummied past Kaleb Trask and left Bryn Gatland with no chance.
7/10: It had some moments of brilliance, but was also punctuated with errors both teams wouldn’t have been entirely proud of, and the margin got away a bit.
THE BIG PICTURE
The Crusaders are up to 4-1 and will carry their momentum into a short turnaround to their southern derby against the Highlanders in Christchurch on Friday night. The Chiefs slip to 3-2 and have a longer break, which they may well enjoy, facing the Hurricanes in Wellington on Sunday.
Crusaders fullback Will Jordan was in epic touch on both sides of the ball. Not only did he score a great try (and he nearly had another stunner from a long-range kick and chase), he was his usual electric self on attack, racking up a game-high 143 metres, but he also snaffled three turnovers in a superb breakdown effort.
Crusaders 34 (Cullen Grace try 8min, Will Jordan try 18min, Sevu Reece try 58min, Leicester Fainga’anuku 63min, Codie Taylor 74min; Richie Mo’unga 3 con, pen) Chiefs 19 (Alex Nankivell 2 tries 12min, 39min, Cortez Ratima 71min; Bryn Gatland 2 con). HT: 15-12