Super 14 - Game of the Week
Crusaders claim Chiefs' scalp
March 12, 2010
The Crusaders' Robbie Fruean takes on the Chiefs' defence
© Getty Images
The Crusaders climbed to the top of the Super 14 table with a hard-fought 26-19 victory over the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium.
The Game of the Week featured arguably the best half of the Super 14 season so far as the two New Zealand sides turned on the running rugby in the opening period, before the Crusaders fell back on the exemplary kicking of All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter to lock up the victory in the second 40 minutes. Both sides seemed to leave the kicking - and the tackling - in the dressing rooms as the Crusaders built a half-time lead through two tries to Kahn Fotuali'i, while Richard Kahui touched down for the hosts' only score shortly before half time.
Carter moved second in the all-time Super Rugby point-scorers list after a string of expert kicks in windy conditions. He finished the match with 996 points, just nine behind Brumbies veteran Stirling Mortlock.
The Chiefs were without captain Sione Lauaki, who was left out after being charged with assault during the week while the Crusaders could call on All Blacks lock Isaac Ross after injury and Fotuali'i was in at No.9 for the injured Andrew Ellis.
Cool conditions assisted the remarkably high intensity and three penalties had been kicked before some in the crowd had taken their seats as Carter pegged back one of Stephen Donald's pair of early strikes just six minutes in. Fotuali'i grabbed the first try after the Chiefs' clearing kick landed inside their own half while they were down to 14 men with Liam Messam off, and not yet replaced, with a hip knock. The Crusaders took swift advantage with a sweeping passing move that put the scrum-half through after he backed up well.
There was almost an instant replay for Fotuali'i as the thrilling tempo continued and his opposite number Brendon Leonard made progress for the Chiefs in yet another counterattack, but neither break came to anything.
Donald and Carter then traded a penalty each as the teams earned further shots at goal by galloping over the advantage line. Under the new rule interpretations, running rugby can lead to more three-pointers than tries as defences are penalised for slowing down the breakdown, and that's how this match panned out. Crusaders skipper Richie McCaw was lucky not to receive a yellow card for lifting in a tackle, and he showed his relief with a smile and a thumbs up to the referee after he got away with a warning.
Events in the 30th minute summed up the half as the ball travelled to all corners of the field before ending up over the Chiefs' line in Fotuali'i's arms for his second. First Lelia Masaga made a try-saving claim of Carter's long kick ahead of the onrushing Zac Guildford, and two counter-attacking kicks later Masaga was caught isolated by the Crusaders defence.
The ball spilt out into the hands of Fotuali'i and he took the clever option of going down the blindside, where a quick exchange of passes sent him free to take it out to 20-9 courtesy of Carter's conversion.
The allergy to effective tackling through the middle continued soon after as Colin Bourke made a bust for the Chiefs, and the ball was quickly cycled out to Donald who offloaded expertly to put Richard Kahui in and bring the margin back to four points. There was just enough time left in the frenetic first half for Carter to give his side a seven-point advantage with another penalty.
The No.10 clinically managed the field position in a more timid second half, and although his early penalty was again matched by Donald to take the margin back to a sole converted try with nine minutes to go, the Chiefs were too often pinned on their own line and too wasteful when urged upfield by their parochial home supporters.
The Crusaders' pack was impressive in the second half, dominating in the tackle and driving forward relentlessly, but with patience and crucially with possession. They almost pushed over for a game-sealing try with five minutes remaining but the video review could find no sight of the ball, let alone a score, through a mass of forwards on the Chiefs line.
Carter then tried the drop-goal route to certain victory but it sailed inches wide, and Donald's incredible 22-metre drop out found touch just four metres from the visitors' try line, giving them valuable field position in the hunt for a score-equalling converted try.
The Chiefs failed to capitalise though, and the Crusaders took their fourth victory of the season to go to the Super 14 summit at the start of round 5, leaving the home side with a consolation bonus point.