The Crusaders and Chiefs entered their Saturday night clash in vastly different circumstances.

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The Crusaders are targeting a fifth successive championship while the Chiefs were hoping to avoid equalling the Highlanders’ 11-match losing streak.

While it was close in the early stages, the Crusaders showed their class in the second half and off the back of some exceptional scrum dominance, eventually prevailed over the visitors 39-17.

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McCaw and crew crossed the finish line in the adventure race in Rotorua, NZ after completing the 666 kilometre expedition in 5 days, 7 hours and 25 minutes

Who were the winning team’s best performers on the night?

1. George Bower – 8/10
No matter who the Crusaders play in the front row, you know they’re going to do the job. Helped dismantle the Chiefs scrum, despite lining up against a considerably more experienced All Black. Busy on defence. You get the feeling that against all odds, Bower might actually be the second-best loosehead prop in the competition.

2. Codie Taylor – 8
A quieter shift on attack than in the Crusaders’ opening two matches but was industrious at the breakdown, ensuring the Chiefs weren’t able to get quick ball on more than one occasion. One-third of a strong front row performance.

3. Michael Alaalatoa – 7
Didn’t stand out as much as his propping partner but still caused havoc in the scrums. Happy to cart the ball up but didn’t look overly enthusiastic on the night. Regardless, if you send your opposition backwards in the set-pieces then you’re doing a pretty good job as a tight forward.

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4. Scott Barrett – 7.5
Did the core work that allowed his teammates to prosper. Made 11 tackles and was a thorn in the Chiefs lineout. Put in some punishing hits on defence.

5. Sam Whitelock – 7
How many years has his career been extended thanks to last year’s COVID disruption? Has upped his game since 2019 and his soft skills were on full display against the Chiefs, regularly stepping into the backline to help deliver the ball to the wider channels.

6. Sione Havili Talitui – 7.5
Handed a rare start and took the opportunity with open arms. Crashed into the opposition players – whether the Crusaders were on attack or defence, and never backed down from a challenge. Topped his side’s tackle charts with 14 to his name.

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7. Tom Christie – 8
The new Matt Todd. A nuisance at the breakdown and always makes his tackles – and added a bit of venom to his hits this week. Found some metres running in the outfield too.

8. Whetukamokamo Douglas – 7.5
A late addition to the starting side but as good as any of his contemporaries. Hits hard and hits consistently. One of the Crusaders’ busiest ball-carriers and threw himself into the breakdown with reckless abandon. Just how much depth do the Crusaders have in the loose forwards?

9. Mitch Drummond – 7
Has an exceptional platform laid down for him and plays the link between the forwards and the backs to perfection. Hasn’t necessarily set the world alight with his running game this year but when everyone else is so on-form, is that really a problem?

10. Richi Mo’unga – 9.5
Jinked, jived, and led the Crusaders around the park with aplomb. Has started the season on fire and is so far and away the best No 10 in New Zealand right now that it’s not even funny. Beat nine Chiefs defenders, made two linebreaks, and kicked expertly.

11. Leicester Fainga’anuku – 8
The next big thing in New Zealand rugby? Tough to tackle, usually drags in at least two or three defenders and rarely dies with the ball. Still has to work on his defence, however, and was at fault for both the Chiefs’ scores. Still, there are so many upsides to this behemoth wing. How about that finish?

12. David Havili – 8
Looks so good, wherever he plays. Stepped into first receiver at times and found plenty of holes in the Chiefs defence, setting up plenty of linebreaks. Safe as houses in defence too. With Will Jordan such a threat at the back, a long-term stint at No 12 beckons for the former All Black – as does a re-call to the national side.

13. Jack Goodhue – 6.5
Quiet but steady in the midfield. Was outshone by his teammates, but not everyone can flourish on the night.

14. Sevu Reece – 5.5
Had an exceptionally quiet first half, not getting his hands on the ball at all. Came to life a bit more in the second half but wasn’t able to really have an impact on the game. Did his pass in-field really go forwards?

15. Will Jordan – 8
Makes everything look so easy. Runs brilliant lines – one of which resulted in an untouched dash to the line, and almost had a second try late in the game. Uncannily fast and should really be starting at fullback every week.

Reserves:

16. Brodie McAlister – 6.5
Hit his lineouts and helped maintain the scrum’s dominance. Solid outing – deserves a start at some stage.

17. Joe Moody – 7
Aggressive, as always, and absolutely dominated Sione Mafileo in the scrums. In his prime.

18. Fletcher Newell – 6
Had 16 minutes at the end of the match and didn’t take a step backwards.

19. Mitch Dunshea – 7
Hung about on the wing for a well-taken try. Despite the Crusaders’ superb starting locks, they still lose little when bringing on Dunshea.

20. Quinten Strange – 6
Joined the fray late in the piece and kept himself busy with some tidy carries and breakdown work.

21. Bryn Hall – 6
Carried on Mitch Drummond’s solid work.

22. Fergus Burke – 7
Showed a nice touch for Mitch Dunshea’s late try.

23. Dallas McLeod – N/A
Popped up out wide but didn’t have much time to assert himself.

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