The Chiefs won a war of attrition against the Crusaders on Friday, taking the spoils 28-19 thanks to a fine defensive effort in Hamilton.
The Chiefs won a war of attrition against the Crusaders on Friday, taking the spoils 28-19 thanks to a superb defensive effort in Hamilton.
It was a meeting of Test match intensity as the champions unbelievably claimed the four points, despite being pressured on their own line for large parts of an incredible second stanza.
Victory pushes the Chiefs ten points clear of the Crusaders, with the third-placed Blues taking on the Brumbies at Eden Park on Saturday.
The Chiefs, who were wearing a one-off jersey to help raise awareness of Waikato District Health Board's child and youth health services Waikids, were behind with five minutes on the clock when Wyatt Crockett won a scrum penalty against Ben Tameifuna. Graham Henry's midweek rant about the loosehead not fazing referee Steve Walsh.
It was a battle of the set-piece and breakdown early on as All Black match-ups were prominent. However, the fly-half scrap created the opening try as Dan Carter found his attempted kick charged down by Aaron Cruden, who picked up before running in under the posts, making it 7-3 with the extras.
While the visiting fly-half was struggling in some aspects of his play, his team-mates were threatening down the left channel as the returning Israel Dagg was keen to get involved. The Crusaders sensed the Chiefs were there for the taking and opted to turn down a shot at goal, instead going for the line-out that led to Matt Todd powering over the whitewash. Taylor's conversion pushed the seven-time champions 7-10 up with a quarter played.
Cruden leveled matters soon after however as the scrum battle swung the way of the Chiefs, this time home loosehead prop Pauliasi Manu winning his side three vital points.
The contest was then dominated by kicking and it was interesting to see the Chiefs winning the territorial battle, something the Crusaders rarely lose. And just like their first score, the hosts' second try came from a charge-down as Tom Marshall found Craig Clarke to score.
At 15-10 with half-an-hour played the match was perfectly balanced, even more so when a solid break from Marshall off first-phase ball saw him offload for Taylor up the middle. The centre was brought down by Robinson before scrum-half Ellis was taken out at the base. The net result was Taylor sending over three points, with Cruden then missing a shot from the right with the last kick of the half. 15-13 was a fair reflection on the entertaining derby.
Tameifuna gave the Crusaders a gift three minutes into the second period when he took out Ryan Crotty with a no-arms tackle, with Taylor sending over three points that pushed the visitors back in front. In all honesty, the young prop was lucky not to find himself in the bin.
Things did not improve for Tameifuna in the 49th minute as the tighthead was then penalised at the breakdown, which allowed visiting centre Taylor to extend the lead.
However, back came the Chiefs with a free-flowing move that took them to within five metres and eventually led to Kieran Read's side entry. That allowed Cruden to cut the scoreline down to 19-18 in favour of the Crusaders with 27 minutes left in a knockout style clash.
Back off the ropes bounced the Chiefs when for all money it looked like Read was over on the right, but Bundee Aki did superbly well to get back, holding up the captain with a titanic effort that forced the attacking scrum. Thus began a period of the Crusaders landing blows.
The Chiefs though showed tremendous courage to weather the barrage on their own line as Sam Cane pinched possession and Robinson cleared, much to the delight of the crowd.
Just when they thought they had landed the counter punch after soaking up all that pressure, TMO Ben Skeen adjudged Aki to have taken a player out ahead of the scoring Charlie Ngatai. However, they didn't have to wait long to cross for sure when Aki crossed.
The Chiefs were now 25-19 to the good with eight minutes remaining on the clock and Cruden rubbed salt into the Crusaders' wounds by denying them a losing bonus-point.
Tries: Cruden, Clarke, Aki
Con: Cruden 2
Pen: Cruden 3
Pen: Taylor 4
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Dan Waenga, 22 Lelia Masaga.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell/Laurence Corlett, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Robbie Fruean, 22 Telusa Veianu.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)