In Wellington, barely a week ago, the Crusaders found themselves in a position where a drop goal would earn them a come from behind victory over the hometown Hurricanes.
After receiving the ball from a charge down inside the Hurricanes 22, it took the Crusaders just six phases to set up for and sink the game-winning drop kick.
They were in a similar position again on Saturday evening – behind by a point and hovering inside the Chiefs’ 22. Only this time, the drop kick never came.
While the Crusaders seemingly had a handful of opportunities to strike the fell blow, with Richie Mo’unga parked in the pocket, the forwards churned through the phases, eventually conceding a penalty after Chiefs lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi got his hands on the ball.
The penalty all but ended the contest – despite captain Scott Barrett challenging the call – and the Chiefs emerged 26-25 victors.
Speaking on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall has shed some light on what it was like to be on the park in those final moments of the match.
“It’s funny, hindsight’s a great thing,” the Super Rugby centurion said. “We were getting ready to kick pretty much straight after that penalty but that’s the risk you have.
“The week before, we probably went a little bit earlier and [against the Chiefs] we left it a phase too late and Ah Kuoi makes a great play, getting a turnover.
“You’ve just got be a little bit better, a little bit more ruthless. The week before we were and unfortunately in the weekend, it’s rugby, we weren’t able to get it back to Richie who was in the pocket, getting ready off that ruck.”
New Zealand sides – including the national team – have been criticised in the past for failing to utilise drop goals to win matches. Perhaps the most famous example is in the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France, but there have been a number of examples in more recent years too.
This is uncharted waters for Scott Robertson… Which might say more about his incredible coaching ability than it does about the Crusaders' current situation ? #SuperRugbyAotearoa #CHIvCRUhttps://t.co/F7HrMSSTkV
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 18, 2021
Against South Africa in 2018, camped inside the Springboks 22, the All Blacks opted to spread the ball to the backs in an attempt to win the match but fullback Damian McKenzie had the ball stripped from his grasp as he neared the try line.
The Super Rugby sides have had more success, with Aaron Cruden nailing an important drop goal for the Chiefs against the Blues early last year while McKenzie and Bryn Gatland traded kicks in the Highlanders’ last-minute win in the opening round of Super Rugby Aotearoa 2020.
David Havili’s successful kick against the Hurricanes in Wellington is, of course, the most recent example.
“I don’t want to be in those positions but in these derbies, these teams – especially the Chiefs – they’re fighters,” Hall said on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “They go to the 80th minutes and that’s what they did in the weekend.
“If we find ourselves where we’ve got to go into a drop goal, we’ve got to be better at that breakdown, which was probably the losing of the game, not getting that breakdown and that last breakdown penalty by Ah Kuoi.”
Under Davie Rennie's first two years in charge, the Chiefs played 20 matches that were decided by seven points or fewer, winning 15. Contrast that with 2020, when the Chiefs lost all six of their close encounters. #SuperRugbyAotearoa #CHIvCRUhttps://t.co/Ma6dVWbJ7H
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) April 19, 2021
Hall confirmed that the intention had been to take a kick in the phase prior to conceding the penalty but that a strong challenge at the breakdown would have given Mo’unga less time and space to operate.
“Before that ruck, they did a good counter … and so the ball’s a little bit slow and so the defensive line are a bit better set and probably knew that Richie was in the back and so we wanted to go another ruck to try and set it up a little bit better. And if we had gotten that ball out, it’s a better kicking angle as well but fair play to Ah Kuoi, he made a great play and won them the game in the moment.
“If we find ourselves in that position we just need to be a little bit better.”
Despite the loss, the Crusaders – who have just one remaining match regular season against the Blues – are still odds-on to host the competition final in three weeks’ time.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, still have to play the Hurricanes and the Blues and have now won their last four matches on the trot.
Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:
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