Crusaders overcome early Chiefs onslaught to remain unbeaten in Super Rugby Aotearoa
The victory wasn’t without controversy, nor was it an easy win as they had to fight back from an early 10-0 deficit in the opening stages of the encounter.
A Damian McKenzie try little more than a minute after kick-off was followed by a conversion and penalty from the Chiefs fullback, but that was as good as it got for the visitors who have now gone 11 games without victory.
A spectacular finish by Leicester Fainga’anuku in the left-hand corner brought the Crusaders to within five points after about a quarter of an hour, and a couple of penalties by Richie Mo’unga edged the hosts to an 11-10 lead at half-time.
It was in the second half where things really began to ramp up for the reigning champions, though, as Mo’unga spearheaded their attack and asserted himself on the game in the manner that won him Super Rugby Aotearoa Player of the Year in 2020.
Using his twinkletoes to elude an array of Chiefs defenders, Mo’unga was instrumental in the Crusaders’ fightback, although the Chiefs weren’t helped by some questionable refereeing decisions that saw the home side’s lead extended early in the second half.
A line break by Mo’unga was followed by an attempted offload while he was in the tackle of Brad Weber, who seemingly forced the Crusaders pivot to throw a forward pass.
The Crusaders seized on the loose ball and were eventually held up over the line, but a TMO referral and a failed captain’s challenge controversially led to the call that Weber had deflected Mo’unga’s offload to cause it to go forward.
The Chiefs halfback was then ruled to have stopped Fainga’anuku from scoring while in an offside position, which resulted in a penalty try and a yellow card to Weber.
From there, the Crusaders juggernaut rolled on as Mo’unga continued to wreak havoc with the Chiefs’ defence as he assisted Will Jordan’s try and continued to apply a ton of pressure with ball in hand to help guide Whetu Douglas over the line.
The relentless attack didn’t fold, as Mitchell Dunshea crossed the line with 10 minutes to play while the opposition defence was at sixes and sevens to put the result well beyond doubt.
An Etene Nanai-Seturo try with about seven minutes to play offered little consolation as the Chiefs continue their search for a long-awaited win, a feat they haven’t achieved in over a year.
The Crusaders, one the other hand, remain in pole position to retain their Super Rugby Aotearoa crown with three wins from three matches and will head into next week’s clash with the Blues in Auckland brimming with confidence.
Chiefs 17 (Tries to Damian McKenzie and Etene Nanai-Seturo; 2 conversions and penalty to McKenzie; yellow card to Brad Weber)
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