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Crusaders player ratings vs Chiefs | Super Rugby Pacific 2024

By Ned Lester
Taha Kemara with the ball in hand for the Crusaders. Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The Crusaders and Chiefs approached the opening game of the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season with two very different outlooks on the match.


The Chiefs were hungry for redemption after losing the final to the Crusaders at home last year, but the reigning champions were adamant this was not a rematch. That’s because it is a vastly different-looking Crusaders outfit in 2024, not so much in quantity of their personnel losses, but the quality.

The red jersey demands excellence though and there would be no excuses from Rob Penny’s men.

It was a tale of two halves, with the Chiefs taking no time at all to make their intentions in the match clear. The Crusaders weathered the storm and fired back in the second half, but it wasn’t to be as they fell short in the dying moments.

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Here’s how the Crusaders rated:

1. George Bower – 5

The long-awaited return for the All Black front rower got off to a rapid start and Bower was guilty of letting a tackle go that resulted in the Chiefs’ first line break of the day. The prop was generally a step behind early, being late to secure the ruck on the first Crusaders attack of the game, resulting in a turnover.

The prop was present in some of the Crusaders’ less cohesive moments defensively in the first half, but was far more reliable in the second period. A turnover when the Chiefs were threatening to find their rhythm again couldn’t have come at a better time.

In his first game back after an ACL surgery, Bower ended up returning to the field on the other side of the scrum after a short spell on the bench.


2. George Bell – 7

Bell’s defence was impressive in his showings on the team’s northern pre-season tour, a promising sign given the absence of Codie Taylor who’s expected to return in May. The youngster’s defence was again strong on Friday, finishing as the game’s second-highest tackler.

The hooker’s execution at line-out time was strong in the first half, and it needed to be against an organised Chiefs unit. In the second period, things weren’t as consistent. The hooker was trusted to go deep into the game, remaining on the field well into the final 10 minutes.

3. Tamaiti Williams – N/A

No sooner than Williams got into the match through a sprint down the sideline did he appear to pull a hamstring and be taken from the field.


4. Scott Barrett (c) – 6.5

The captain was quiet early by his standards, perhaps rusty having not featured in any of the team’s pre-season games. A try early in the second half brought the Chiefs’ lead back to just five points, and the All Black looked to be re-familiarising himself with the pace of the game.

Barrett doubled down on his defensive prowess in the second period, working his way into the game but couldn’t provide the big plays that were needed late.


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5. Quinten Strange – 4.5

Strange left the field for a concussion test and in his absence Jamie Hannah was brilliant. Upon returning, the lock was immediately out of sync with his forwards at the line out and was caught out of position, failing to lift Dom Gardiner which resulted in a turnover and then a try moments later.

Strange was twice caught out wider in the defensive line by cunning Chiefs attackers, inevitably struggling with the mismatch. The All Blacks XV lock was quiet elsewhere on defence and missed two of his attempts.

6. Dom Gardiner – 8

Dom Gardiner won the race for the No. 6 jersey in the absence of Ethan Blackadder, beating Christian Lio-Willie, which is no mean feat.

Gardiner was active early, with varied success coming from his enthusiasm. Strong tackles and carries showed his promise but ill-discipline got him caught on the wrong side of the ruck – something referees are cracking down on this season.

As far as interactions in the game, the young flanker had to be up there if not the most involved in the game during his 52 minutes on the field. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a huge effort.

7. Tom Christie – 7.5

It took no time at all for Christie’s defence to be felt in the match, and inevitably in a game where the Chiefs dominated possession for long periods, Christie easily topped the tackle count with 26.

8. Cullen Grace – 7

Grace produced a well-rounded showing in the season’s opening match, claiming 18 tackles while contributing five carries. He proved to be one of his team’s stronger carriers, regarding post-contact metres as well as offloads.

Grace’s potential is undeniably high, but now with some big names missing on the Crusaders’ team sheet he faces more responsibility in the big moments. On the night he did his core roles well and will look to build off that in round two.


9. Mitchell Drummond – 6

Drummond provided poise when his team needed it, making a couple of big plays and one costly fumble in the first half. He serviced his runners well and was never caught late to the play. He claimed a try assist and was his usual, reliable self around the park.

10. Rivez Reihana – 7.5

Reihana’s composure given the circumstances was exceptional. Calmly navigating exits in the first half and taking his opportunities off the tee, then kickstarting the second period with his skillset single-handedly.

11. Macca Springer – 5

Springer had little influence on the match without any ball to play with out wide, but his few touches contributed positively. The winger started the second half holding up his opposite in the tackle.

12. Dallas McLeod – 3

McLeod struggled to find any rhythm in the match, especially on the attacking side of the ball. He persisted and had some positive play late, chasing hard and putting pressure on the Chiefs backfield, but ultimately couldn’t find his feet in the game.

A dropped ball with just minutes to spare saw the Crusaders’ last opportunity of the game go begging, capping a frustrating evening for the one-time All Black.


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13. Levi Aumua – 8

Aumua is out with a point to prove in 2024. Having excelled with Moana Pasifika, the bruising midfielder is hunting higher honours.

Without much possession early, Aumua’s defence was impressive. He’s clearly trusted to be a focal point in the defensive line and was keen to get involved.

14. Sevu Reece – 7

It was a great moment for New Zealand rugby on Friday night seeing Sevu Reece back on the field, fit and firing. Reece suffered a torn ACL during last year’s Super Rugby Pacific campaign and was devastated to miss the Rugby World Cup.

Reece’s trademark work rate was present from the outset, without any opportunity with the ball in hand the winger was involved at the breakdown and seeking work defensively.

His first try of the season came through nothing but effort, and at a crucial time for his team as the Chiefs were building momentum and threatening to run away with the game.

15. Chay Fihaki – 5

What an opportunity for Chay Fihaki in 2024, inheriting the starting fullback role with the injuries to Will Jordan and Leigh Halfpenny. The youngster has been heralded as a hugely promising prospect for a number of seasons now but has missed a crack at consistent selection up until now.

The fullback possesses a hell of a boot, but each of his early punts landed straight in Damian McKenzie’s arms – possibly the worst outcome any Crusaders fan could hope for. That mistake was punished dearly.

Fihaki missed a crucial tackle that gave Etene Nanai-Seturo-Seturo a chance out wide, which the winger spectacularly converted.

The second half rolled around and Fihaki was a different player, supporting play well to get in the position to score just minutes into the period and seeking a crucial turnover 10 minutes later.


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16. Quinten MacDonald – 4

17. Joe Moody – 4

18. Owen Franks – 8.5

An early return to action didn’t phase the 36-year-old. The former All Black’s scrummaging was a rare area of superiority the Crusaders enjoyed in the match. His activity around the park was energetic, springing off the ground after every tackle.

19. Jamie Hannah – 9

When asked what young Crusaders player will impress in 2024, Scott Barrett replied with the name “Jamie Hannah”. In the season opener, the rookie showed why.

Hannah’s line-out nous was clear soon after he took the field early after Strange’s concussion test. Great second run and superb offload, single-handedly generating momentum.

Hannah’s carries continued to make metres and he yet again had a huge influence in a scoring effort when he provided the inside ball to a galloping Chay Fihaki.

20. Christin Lio-Willie – 7

21. Noah Hotham – 8

Hotham got away with one mistake in his minutes off the bench but was otherwise superb. His deliveries were crisp and he was extremely energetic. His defence forced a mistake from the Chiefs with just four minutes left, gifting his side a chance to win the game down by one.

22. Taha Kemara – 6

23. Ryan Crotty – 6


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