Chiefs captain Brad Weber isn’t getting carried away following his side’s victory over the table-topping Crusaders on Saturday evening.
Despite riding high on a three-game winning streak, the Crusaders were still comfortable favourites to take the victory in Hamilton this weekend but a last-minute Damian McKenzie penalty stole the match for the home side.
It was the third time in as many matches that McKenzie was the hero in the dying moments, with the pocket rocket playmaker scoring the winning try with the last play of the game to beat the Blues two weekends ago then slotting a penalty in extra-time against the Highlanders last weekend.
The Crusaders, meanwhile, were far from their best in their two games leading up to their battle with the Chiefs and struggled for territory and possession on Saturday evening – but still held the lead for the majority of the match.
McKenzie’s penalty in the 78th minute nudged the Chiefs ahead 26-25 before Naitoa Ah Kuoi earned a late-game penalty to end the match while the Crusaders were hot on attack and preparing for a drop goal.
It was a valiant performance from the home team and the 18,000 in attendance at Waikato Stadium were undoubtedly appreciative of their efforts.
“The belief is huge in this group and the crowd tonight really rode us home,” Weber said following the match. “They were the extra leg we needed.
“It’s fantastic. They stuck with us through the terrible times, particularly last year. They’re the true fans we play for, really. It’s great to have such a big crowd here and [against the] Hurricanes next week, hopefully we can top 18,000.”
Despite the heroic win, however, Weber isn’t getting carried away – knowing full well that the Crusaders weren’t at full strength for the match.
“We know you need to be a little bit innovative against the Crusaders,” he said. “They’re such a well-drilled team, they prepare really well. We knew that if you can build phases against this team, they’ll either give away a penalty or we think we can score tries, especially with some of the potent attack we’ve got. We stuck to it for eighty and we got the chocolates.
“To be honest, if you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best – and that wasn’t the best Crusaders team tonight, they left a bit of cattle at home so the challenge isn’t over yet.”
In 2019, @ChiefsRugby hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho turned down the chance to play for Tonga. That decision could pay dividends very soon for the 23-year-old, if last night's match is anything to go by. #SuperRugbyAotearoa #CHIvCRUhttps://t.co/oWimFv34tc
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 18, 2021
Regulars Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Sam Whitelock and Cullen Grace were all absent from the starting side, with Taylor joining the fray from the bench and the others rested from the match altogether.
Captain Scott Barrett, meanwhile, was playing on the blindside flank instead of in his usual position in the second row – though he made a significant impact at the breakdown regardless.
One way or another, it was a far cry from the side that the Crusaders will field in the grand final in three weeks’ time.
Still, there were plenty of positives for the Chiefs – and the win takes them one step closer to meeting the Crusaders in that final.
“It’s great. Destiny’s in our hands now and that’s what we wanted. We’ve got to stop leaving it to the last bloody minute, my heart can’t take it.
“We still need to be better at finishing a lot of our linebreaks and stuff but good thing we’re creating them.”
In the second-to-last round of regular-season Super Rugby Aotearoa action, the Chiefs will host the Hurricanes on Friday while the Crusaders will spend another weekend away from home, meeting the Blues in Auckland.
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