CRUSADERS 19 CHIEFS 24
Nanai-Williams of the Chiefs passes under pressure from Israel Dagg of the Crusaders. Photo: Getty Images
It's two in a row for the Chiefs in Super Rugby and after upsetting the Crusaders 24-19 at McLean Park tonight as they showed they must be taken seriously by all other sides.
Dave Rennie and his support staff have gambled on a number of young players and, partly due to early injuries, have thrown them in to the heat of battle almost from the outset.
The result is back-to-back wins over the Blues and Crusaders after losing the first New Zealand conference derby narrowly to the high-flying Highlanders.
Some felt it would take time for the new-look Chiefs to build but Rennie's crew have done their homework very thoroughly and it is showing as the belief builds among the players and the huge work ethic that the coaches have stressed from the outset and made a key ingredient of their recruiting is paying off early.
The Chiefs dominated possession and territory for the second week running, although they had to withstand a typically determined Crusaders fightback in the second spell after taking a 16-6 lead to the halftime break.
In the end they scored two tries to the Crusaders' one, emerged triumphant again from the physical battle, stood up and at times dominated in the set-pieces - usually the Crusaders' strength - and for the third week in a row defended outstandingly.
The Chiefs took the game to the Crusaders right from the start and the confidence soared as the much-vaunted red and black scrum buckled and twisted under pressure, conceding turnovers and penalties as 20-year-old rookie Ben Tameifuna had Ben Franks under all sorts of trouble.
The visitors dominated both possession and territory, playing a strong mix of ball-in-hand and kicking for territory to keep the Crusaders pinned back in their own half for the majority of the time.
The only try of the opening spell went the Chiefs' way when inspirational blind-side flanker Liam Messam was driven over in the right corner from a blind-side attack after another solid buildup which featured Sonny Bill Williams taking the ball up strongly, the forwards taking it on and then Messam finishing off before getting the nod from television match official Richard Kelly.
That try came 26 minutes into the half and vaulted the Chiefs to a 13-3 lead once five-eighth Aaron Cruden knocked over the wide-angled conversion.
Earlier, Cruden had kicked the Chiefs into a 3-0 lead in the opening minute of the match, but hit a flat patch with his kicking and missed his next two attempts, Crusaders No 10 Tyler Bleyendaal having levelled the scores at 3-3 in the eighth minute.
Some big Chiefs scrums, strong running from Williams up the middle of the field and great ball carrying from youngsters Tameifuna and workaholic lock Brodie Retallick thus went unrewarded until Cruden finally found his rhythm and range again halfway through the opening spell.
Down 13-3, the Crusaders suddenly looked like the awakened sleeping giant as halfback Andy Ellis and No 8 and captain Kieran Read looked to inspire the match favourites, who were playing yet another home game away from Christchurch.
Messam stopped Read scoring after a blind-side scrum break from Ellis and then Ellis was unlucky not to get a try himself when he was harshly ruled offside with a base-of-the-scrum steal inside the Chiefs' 22.
Bleyendaal and Cruden exchanged penalty goals in the last five minutes and the Crusaders finished the half on attack with Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Tim Nanai-Williams bundling Corey Flynn into touch in the right corner right on halftime.
As the teams trooped under the stands for the 10-minute break, the Crusaders knew they had not been their usual efficient selves with a high error rate under the pressure applied by the upstart Chiefs.
The Crusaders opened the second spell looking determined to finally impose their game on the Chiefs, but again in the conditions made greasy by pre-match rain they let themselves down with their handling and even a stunning break by winger Israel Dagg brought no reward.
A crucial ruck steal by Chiefs fullback Robbie Robinson spoilt a dangerous Crusaders attack at the line, but then Robinson had the ball stolen from him after fielding a high kick and the Crusaders made no mistake this time with centre Robbie Fruean running a great angle to score behind the posts, Bleyendaal's conversion closing the gap to 16-13.
The Chiefs needed to get back into the game and when they worked their way marginally into Crusaders' territory Cruden was handed the ball for a tough penalty kick 50 metres out, the ball just dropping under the crossbar.
But it gave the visiting side much needed field position and when Ellis flicked an awkward pass back to Flynn on the Crusaders' 22m line the resulting knock-on it put the Chiefs in prime attacking territory.
They took quick advantage with the midfield scrum and went left to hammer the corner where pumped up loosehead prop Sona Taumalolo got over in a melee for the try that referee Garratt Williamson awarded when Kelly was unable to give him any reason not to from inconclusive video footage.
Cruden's conversion missed but the try gave the Chiefs breathing space once more at 21-13 - not for long though as Bleyendaal nailed consecutive penalty goals from out in front in the space of three minutes to close it back up to 21-19.
With the Chiefs suddenly on the back foot it took some great defence from centre Richard Kahui - outstanding all game - and right winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma to inspire a rearguard action.
Finally they worked their way back into the attacking half of the field, Cruden chased his own chip kick and Zac Guildford knocked on to give the Chiefs an attacking scrum on the Crusaders' 22m line.
There was no immediate reward apart valuable field position and when Bleyendaal was penalised for not rolling away less than five minutes from the end he made no mistake from 40m out to give his team some breathing space at 24-19.
Not done yet, the Crusaders swept back downfield from the kickoff, Read desperately stretched out for the intercept that would have given his team the winning chance, but he knocked on and the Chiefs were able to clear from the resulting defensive scrum. Their defence held out against phase after phase before the mistake came after the final hooter and the Chiefs had their second win in a row.
The Chiefs now go to Mt Maunganui next Friday night to take on Australia's Brumbies, brimming with confidence after holding their own so far in the home conference.
CHIEFS 24 (Liam Messam, Sona Taumalolo tries; Aaron Cruden conversion, 4 penalty goals) CRUSADERS 19 (Robbie Fruean try; Tyler Bleyendaal conversion, 4 penalty goals). HT:16-6.
Fairfax NZ News