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'12 months ago people were talking about losing records': Young Chiefs side still maturing

By Ben Smith
(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

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The Chiefs had to throw the kitchen sink at the Crusaders to break down their ferocious defence in a final quarter which led to the Chiefs coaches applauding their opposition for their intensity.

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The visitors dominated the territory and possession stakes after Braydon Ennor put the Crusaders up 21-10 with a walk-in try under the posts. It took the Chiefs until the 75th minute to strike back and get within striking distance as the Crusaders resisted vehemently.

Smart hands across the backs saw win Shaun Stevenson score in the left-hand corner following some aerobatics to evade the cover defender. After his missed effort last week against the Blues, Bryn Gatland stepped up to nail the sideline conversion to lift the Chiefs within four points at 21-17 with less than four minutes remaining to give them a chance.

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After receiving multiple penalties after the siren, the Chiefs were able to muster one last attack from five metres out with an attacking line out. Working back to the short side, the Chiefs had the Crusaders stretched and were able to score in the corner to steal the game through reserve first five Rameka Poihipi.

The last-gasp win left the Chiefs coaches ‘not knowing what to think’ according to Clayton McMillan who said they sat back and admired the Crusaders’ defensive effort.

“Up in our coaches box, we sat back and applauded the effort and the accuracy of their defence,” McMillan said.

“We threw a number of challenges at them and just kept getting repelled nine times out of 10 and often that’s enough to turn the game in their favour or enough to close it out and today we just kept coming back and managed to get over with five minutes to go.

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“That was the critical moment, wasn’t it? To get within that one try [margin] which put both teams under a bit of pressure and we ground it out, which was great.”

It was only 12 months ago that the surging Chiefs travelled to Christchurch for the Super Rugby Aotearoa final in an attempt to topple the Crusaders. On that night they fell short 24-13.

McMillan said the side is ‘maturing’ and that the memories of their winless 2020 Super Rugby campaign are still fresh despite a much improved 2021 campaign.

“It’s a maturing side. You’ve gotta remember that this team’s been through a lot of adversity,” he said.

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“It was only just 12 months ago people were talking about losing records and all that sort of carry on and got some growth and managed to come down here and we got beaten in a final by a better team and I said we’d learn from that experience.

“It’s pretty early doors but I think with being able to put guys like Brodie out out on the field, Sam Cane, fit and healthy, Anton.

“When we get out bigger guys out on the field regularly, that really helps with the composure and the leadership for what is still a relatively young squad – but one that’s learnt some valuable lessons over the years.”

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