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Winless no more: Crusaders snap losing run with clinical win over Chiefs

By Finn Morton
Johnny McNicholl of the Crusaders celebrates after scoring a try during the round six Super Rugby Pacific match between Crusaders and Chiefs at Apollo Projects Stadium, on March 29, 2024, in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

The Crusaders are winless no more with the defending Super Rugby Pacific champions putting in a much-improved performance as they beat the Chiefs 37-26 on a drought-breaking night in Christchurch.

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Without the likes of Scott Barrett, David Havili and Mitchell Drummond, the Crusaders put the horrors and disappointment of the last five weeks behind them with a statement result against one of their fierce New Zealand rivals.

Youngster Noah Hotham was especially brilliant early on as the halfback registered two try assists inside the opening 15 minutes, which ultimately set the tone for the Crusaders’ big night.

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After taking a 10-point lead into the break, the Crusaders kept the Chiefs scoreless for almost 20 minutes as time began to run out for the visitors.

Tries to Anton Lienert-Brown and Cortez Ratima gave the Chiefs a very real chance of raining on the Crusaders’ parade, but it wasn’t to be in the end as Rob Penney’s men finally registered a victory in the 2024 season.

Less than five minutes before kick-off, the Crusaders made their way through the iconic walkway at Apollo Projects Stadium and up the tunnel with Tom Christie leading the way.

Christie was handed the captaincy for the sixth round clash after halfback Mitchel Drummond, who had originally been given the role earlier this week, withdrew from the match due to illness.

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That change was only confirmed about an hour or so before kick-off with last year’s New Zealand U20s captain Noah Hotham taking Drummond’s place as the team’s starting halfback this week.

As the minutes ticked by, the anticipation for the blockbuster New Zealand derby continued to grow. There was plenty riding on this match-up for both teams and that’s putting it lightly.

Match Summary

2
Penalty Goals
0
5
Tries
4
3
Conversions
3
0
Drop Goals
0
118
Carries
164
10
Line Breaks
9
18
Turnovers Lost
14
4
Turnovers Won
8

On his starting debut with the Chiefs at Super Rugby Pacific level, fly-half Josh Jacomb got the fixture underway on time. The visitors would go on to control the opening exchanges.

The Chiefs controlled possession for practically the entirety of the opening three minutes, but the Crusaders’ defence stood tall as they kept their Kiwi parked in the middle third of the field.

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After 16 phases of impenetrable defence, the Crusaders were rewarded for their efforts with halfback Hotham breaking the game open with a stunning effort along the right sideline.

With the Crusaders’ first meaningful chance to play with the ball, Hotham created something out of nothing after making the burst and then kicking the ball ahead for fullback Chay Fihaki to chase.

Fihaki had too much pace for Chiefs halfback Xavier Roe as the No. 15 sent the home crowd into a frenzy with an early statement from Noah Hotham and the defending Super Rugby Pacific champions.

Hotham, 20, was back making try-scoring plays in the 12th minute with the scrum-half sending wing Johnny McNicholl over with a simple draw-and-pass a couple of metres out from the try line.

Former All Black Jeff Wilson described the Crusaders’ style as “fearless” on the Sky Sport broadcast as Riley Hohepa lined up the conversion attempt which was a success from out-wide.

It hadn’t taken long but the match already appeared to be slipping away from the Chiefs’ grasp. The match had basically already entered ‘they need to score next’ territory for the visitors.

Fortunately for them, they were.

With the Chiefs looking solid on attack inside the host’s 22, fullback Shaun Stevenson threw a monstrous cut-out pass to teammate Emoni Narawa to score their opening points of the night.

Midway through the first-half, it was game on once again in Christchurch.

But compared to the opening five rounds, the Crusaders were a different beast on Friday night. They scored next with Sevu Reece linking up with George Bell, Johnny McNicholl and Cullen Grace.

Grace had Emoni Narawa to beat near the left sideline and the No. 8 did just enough to score, with the New Zealander staying within millimetres of the touchline to cross for the Crusaders’ third.

“They are expressing themselves big time, they really are,” former All Blacks halfback Justin Marshall said on commentary.

The Crusaders’ had extended their lead to 14 points but the men from Hamilton didn’t throw in the towel. They continued to fight as they wrestled their way back into the contest.

Individual brilliance from Jacomb made the scoreline very interesting once again with the playmaker beating a defender before finding Etene Nanai-Seturo with an offload. The wing then found prop George Dyer who crashed over for another much-needed Chiefs score.

While the Crusaders had basically dominated large portions of the first term, or at least controlled the tempo of the fixture, the Chiefs only trailed by seven points late in the half.

Looking to extend their lead with one last point-scoring opportunity, Hohepa stepped up and converted a penalty. The scoreline read 22-12 at the break.

The Crusaders appeared destined for an elusive win with hooker George Bell running a brilliant line off a Riley Hohepa short-ball, and then beating Jacomb for pace, to score a stunner. Bell was flocked by his Crusaders teammates as the Christchurch rugby faithful dared to dream.

Points Flow Chart

Crusaders lead by 11
Time in lead
75
Mins in lead
0
95%
% Of Game In Lead
0%
40%
Possession Last 10 min
60%
3
Points Last 10 min
2

There were no points scored for almost 20 minutes, and with the home side leading by 15, that wasn’t a bad thing. So, the Chiefs turned to their A-listers to make something happen.

All Blacks Luke Jacobson sent Anton Lienert-Brown through a gap as the veteran centre dived over for what had the possibility of being a game-changing score. Replacement Cortez Ratima sprinted over to the try-scorer as the Chiefs looked to mount a comeback.

They were playing with confidence and plenty of possession and looked dangerous as they made their way back into the Crusaders’ half a few minutes later, but rugby can be unpredictable at times.

An intercept saw winger Johnny McNicholl run at least 60 meters. The former Wales international scored the most important try for the Crusaders this season.

Some playmaking magic from Shaun Stevenson led to a Cortez Ratima try late in the piece as the Chiefs made it an eight-point game with less than 10 minutes to run.

But it was the Crusaders’ night. A Rivez Reihana penalty with a couple of minutes to go sealed the drought-breaking win snaps the team’s run of five straight defeats.

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Comments

12 Comments
G
Graham 117 days ago

Really proud to be at last nights game, beating one of our arch rivals Chiefs. Tom Christie did well as captain. He should be the captain when ever Scott Barrett is unavailable. Fine player, Johnny McNicoll was inspirational , he and Sevu Reece compliment each other.

U
Utiku Old Boy 117 days ago

Big difference from the Crusaders last night. Hotham and McNicoll were sparks but everyone seemed dialed in. Young lock Hannah has no stop and Kellow deserves more game time based on his performance. Being captain seemed to lift Christie’s game and with Strange running the lineout there was a big improvement from Bell (including his brilliant individual try). Good to see Reihana running freely and making a solid contribution from the bench. In the absence of Burke, he makes that backline more potent. Also, good to see Aumua with more of a role. If they can back this up, they could move up the table as some of their “names” return (Barrett, Blackadder, Burke, Taylor, Williams, etc).

T
T-Bone 117 days ago

Totally deserved win for the Crusaders
Far smarter than the Chiefs who seem to be avoiding the basics when it matters

Hotham showed them what was missing and Hannah seems a real find - a tad light but that can be fixed over time

D
David 117 days ago

“Johnny McNicholl and the Crusaders” save a Penney. Who has been in camp this week and showed them how to play?

R
Ruaan 117 days ago

So, reports of the Crusaders’ demise / terminal decline are perhaps just - slightly - premature/exaggerated…? 🤔

Will we see a deep-dive into that by the estimable Rugbypass scribes, and maybe one or two mea culpas? Thought not.

A
Andrew 117 days ago

  1. The Chiefs are rudderless without DMac, which enhances his AB chances 2. Chiefs pack are powderpuffs. The hard men arent there anymore 3. They had their golden title chance last yr and wont threaten this yr. Gone in second round of playoffs.

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