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Chiefs hand Crusaders first loss of season with last-gasp try

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

The Chiefs have condemned the Crusaders to their first loss of the Super Rugby Pacific season with an injury time try to secure a 24-21 win in Christchurch.

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Hit with a late flurry of player withdrawals, including captain Scott Barrett, the Crusaders were forced to withstand a disrupted lead-up to kick-off on the day of the game, but looked in control for large portions of the contest.

A tense affair that was dominated by set-piece stoppages, it was the Crusaders who struck first via the boot of Richie Mo’unga, who looked in sharp form in his first start of the season.

However, the Chiefs took the lead with a wonderfully constructed Shaun Stevenson try that saw flashes of x-factor between him and fullback Chase Tiatia.

Tupou Vaa’i also played a key role in the lead-up to his side’s opening score, sucking in a pair of defenders before releasing the ball with a deft offload to kick-off what was another fine showing by the budding young All Blacks lock.

The Crusaders responded quickly, though, as a combination of some fine innovative play by Mo’unga and some misfortune for Chiefs No 8 Pita Gus Sowakula resulted in a David Havili try just five minutes.

Sowakula redeemed himself later in the half, though, as his powerful fend on Mo’unga, as well as Vaa’i’s silky ball-playing skills while carrying into contact, will both make for good viewing in the post-match highlight reel.

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Two further Mo’unga penalty goals outweighed the solitary three-pointer landed by his opposite Bryn Gatland, handing the Crusaders a four-point lead at half-time.

That buffer was increased to 11 points when Braydon Ennor soared under the sticks following a prolonged Crusaders attack comprised of helter-skelter rugby early in the second half.

Both teams had opportunities to add to their tallies, but some impressive scrambling defence on both sides denied tries to Sowakula and Leicester Fainga’anuku.

Gatland also tried his best to channel his inner Mo’unga and get the Chiefs over the line midway through the second stanza, but some clutch defence by Bryn Hall denied the visitors their first points of the half.

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That scrambling defence was a hallmark of the Crusaders’ defensive fortitude and resilience throughout the final quarter.

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The dam was finally broken, though, when, after a mountain of possession, the Chiefs unlocked the Crusaders defence and scored through Stevenson, who completed his try-scoring double in acrobatic fashion in the left-hand corner.

That set-up a grandstand finish, which delivered all that it promised when reserve midfielder Rameka Poihipi crashed over in the same corner that Stevenson had scored in just six minutes earlier.

Poihipi’s try was deserved reward for the Chiefs, whose relentlessness on attack and standout ball retention eventually paid dividends.

The Crusaders will be rightly aggrieved that their staggering defensive effort in the latter stages of the contest wasn’t enough to keep their Kiwi rivals at bay.

Alternatively, the result will also inject Scott Robertson’s men with dose of reality as they fall to their third home Super Rugby defeat in as many years, and their first defeat at the hands of the Chiefs in Christchurch since 2016.

As a result, the Crusaders fail to overtake the first-placed Brumbies at the summit of the Super Rugby Pacific table, while they could yet be overtaken by the third-placed Reds should they pick up and expected win over the Fijian Drua later on Saturday.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, draw level with the fourth-placed Blues, who they only trail by on a small points difference margin heading into their round five clash against the Hurricanes in Wellington next weekend.

Chiefs 24 (Tries to Shaun Stevenson (2) and Rameka Poihipi; 3 conversions and penalty to Bryn Gatland)

Crusaders 21 (Tries to David Havili and Braydon Ennor; conversion and 3 penalties to Richie Mo’unga)

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