The Chiefs got their Super Rugby title defence off to a winning start with an 18-10 victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch on Friday.
The Chiefs got their Super Rugby title defence off to a winning start with an 18-10 victory over the Crusaders in the New Zealand Conference opener at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Friday.
In a pulsating game that went right down to the wire, the Chiefs led 8-0 at half time thanks to a brilliant try from former Crusader Robbie Fruean.
Sam Whitelock pulled the Crusaders back into contention with a try early in the second half but, with the score at 11-10, the defending champions landed the killer blow in the dying moments as replacement wing James Lowe intercepted and ran the length of the field to score.
The Crusaders will harbour a number of regrets having enjoyed the lion's share of possession and territory but between them Tyler Bleyendaal and Tom Talyor left 21 points by the wayside from the kicking tee.
Once again the Chiefs' ability to counter-punch came to the fore as they absorbed endless amounts of pressure, before striking back from deep inside their own territory.
Fruean's score-opening try was a fantastic effort, finishing off a counter-attacking move started inside the Chiefs 22 by returning full-back Mils Muliaina and Augustine Pulu. The scrum-half linked with Asaeli Tikoirotuma, who did well to make some ground before offloading to Fruean, who bounced off two tacklers before beating two more as he burst down the touchline to score.
Aaron Cruden missed the conversion and Bleyendaal did the same with two penalties soon afterwards to leave the score at 5-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Bleyendaal was having a nightmare with the boot and missed two more as half time approached. Things got worse for the Crusaders as Dominic Bird was sent to the bin, paying for his team's repeated infringements at the ruck.
Cruden was having no such problems and hit the target to make the lead 8-0 shortly before the interval after being caught high by Tim Perry.
An incredibly frustrating half for the home side came to an end with Bleyendaal missing his fifth shot at goal, leaving his side empty handed at the break.
The only silver lining for the hosts was Ben Tameifuna joining Bird in bin, as referee Chris Pollock sought to clean up the ruck area.
The second half started with both teams down to 14 men and Taylor on for Bleyendaal.
Chiefs should have claimed their second try from a counter attack from deep inside their own territory but Cruden spilled the ball in the act of diving for the line.
Not much was going the Crusaders' way as George Whitelock was sent to the bin and Cruden added his second penalty to extend the lead to 11-0.
The landscape of the game changed drastically in 48th minute though as Sam Whitelock broke clear from the middle of a line-out and charged home. Taylor added the extras and at 11-7, it was game on.
The kicking curse continued to plague the men in red however as Taylor had missed two more penalties by the hour mark – bringing the total of missed points to 21.
After banging on a closed door for the better part of ten minutes, Richie McCaw finally opted for points and Taylor slotted an easy penalty to make it a one-point game with six minutes left to play.
But, in classic Chiefs style, the visitors had the last laugh as Lowe latched onto Nafi Tuitavake's pass and bolted 95 metres to score.
Cruden's conversion, after the hooter, robbed the Crusaders of a much-deserved and crucial losing bonus point.
Try: S. Whitelock
Yellow cards: Bird, G. Whitelock
Tries: Fruean, Lowe
Pens: Cruden 2
Yellow card: Tameifuna
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Reynold Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nafi Tuitavake, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Richie McCaw (capt), 6 George Whitelock, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Rob Thompson.
Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Tevita Koloamatangi, 6 Liam Messam (capt) 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Ben Afeaki, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Nick Crosswell, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 James Lowe.
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Mike Lash (New Zealand)
Television match official: Chris Watt (New Zealand)