The Crusaders showed plenty of fight to beat the Chiefs 28-21 in a fiercely contested New Zealand derby in Hamilton on Friday.
This was a thriller. It held you in a thrall right to the end - in fact especially that end bit as the Chiefs flung everything they had at the Crusaders and then in the end were beaten by their own overeagerness. The speed and intensity of the game sang loudly of Super Rugby at its very best.
Three things won it for the Crusaders - those first 22 minutes, dislocation of the Chiefs' set pieces and their own intense defence in the last 20 minutes.
In those opening 22 minutes the Crusaders scored two tries and led 22-6. In the next 58 minutes they scored one try and just eight points.
The Chiefs clearly missed Craig Clarke at line-outs. They threw into 10 line-outs of which they lost five and threw in skew once - not that the rest were much to rely on. And the scrums were a mess.
In the match there were 13 scrums with 13 collapses. After Wyatt Crockett came on the referee seemed to give up controlling the scrums and five collapsed - all on Crockett's side as he went down and curled in - and none was stopped but what happened was enough to ensure bad ball for the Chiefs. The wonky line-outs and unruly scrums sapped the Chiefs' confidence and when the Crusaders were penalised three times at the end, they tapped instead of setting line-outs or scrums.
Before the match Kieran Read said: "Our pack's our strength." It was certainly good enough to bamboozle the Chiefs.
Waikato Stadium was packed for this top game and in the endgame when the Chiefs did nothing but attack the crowd shouted, shrieked and implored, willing their team to a victory which only just eluded them. Right at the end, the siren gone, the Chiefs moved the game wide to the right where they had a clear overlap but Sonny Bill Williams opted to ignore three men outside of him and headed for the line where Crusaders held him up, the whistle went and the game was lost.
Aaron Cruden kicked off and he provided the first thrill when he leapt to catch an up-'n-under from Robbie Robinson and dash for the line. Zac Guildford tackled him but Tawera Kerr-Barlow dashed on till Israel Dagg felled him. But the Crusaders were penalised and Cruden goaled. 3-0 after just a minute.
Daniel Carter then hit the upright with a penalty, but it was almost a happy fault, for Alex Bradley knocked on and gave the Crusaders a five-metre scrum from which they bashed. Andy Ellis was close and at the first scrum the Chiefs were penalised. 3-3 after 6 minutes.
Robbie Fruean intercepted a Cruden pass and then Carter kicked a perfect diagonal which Guildford gather. He headed for the corner but Robinson hauled him down. Frantic attack and frantic defence followed till Read cut back onto a short pass from Dagg and got over in Kerr-Barlow's tackle. 10-3 after 11 minutes.
Ryan Crotty was penalised at a tackle. 10-6 after 16 minutes. The Crusaders won the kick-off and Carter dropped a goal. 13-6 after 17 minutes.
A penalty gave the Crusaders an attacking line-out which they mauled. The referee was playing advantage when Ellis went left and with his left foot put a delicate grubber infield where Luke Romano bent to it and plunged over for the try. Carter converted from afar. 20-6 after 22 hectic minutes.
The Chiefs took their turn to attack, starting with a counterattack and Sonny Bill Williams prominent. They had a five-metre scrum and bashed till Brodie Retallick dived over for a try. 20-13 after 30 minutes. At that stage it was something of a surprise that the Chiefs were only a score behind.
They could have been closer when a poor pass by Ellis gave the ball to the Chiefs and prop (sic) Sona Taumalolo raced down the midfield. Devoid of support he grubbered and Dagg footed far back over his own dead-ball line to give the Chiefs' a five-metre scrum. Ben Franks was penalised and Cruden made the half-time score 20-16.
Not one scrum in the half had had a natural ending.
After the Crusaders won a Chiefs' line-out the visitors attacked but Dagg lost the ball forward.
The Crusaders won another Chiefs' line-out and the Crusaders attacked till the TMO advised that Ellis had scored. 25-16 after 52 minutes.
Kerr-Barlow leapt over a tackle/ruck to steal the Crusaders' ball and set up an attack. Sonny Bill Williams hammered at two defenders, swivelled and with one hand at the end of a long arm scored a try. Cruden missed the easy conversion. 25-21 after 56 minutes.
Big Ben Tameifuna was penalised at a tackle. 28-21 with 19 minutes to play.
Guildford passed back into ingoal to give the Chiefs a five-metre scrum. Andrew Horrell got a bit ahead and gave Asaeli Tikoirotuma a slight chance to score but Matt Todd forced him to ground the ball on touch-in-goal. The Chiefs had a six-metre line-out and threw in skew. They ran everything as time ran out and the noise in the stadium grew to hysteria. But then Sonny Bill Williams tried to score on his own and the bubble burst into disappointment.
Man of the Match: There were the flyhalves Aaron Cruden and Dan Carter and there were Liam Messam, Same Cane, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read and there was our Man of the Match Andy Ellis, always on hand to distribute quickly and accurately and a handful for the opponents.
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Retallick, Williams
Pen: Cruden 3
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Read, Romano, Ellis
Cons: Carter 2
Pens: Carter 2
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Alex Bradley, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Romana Graham, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Jackson Willison, 22 Lelia Masaga.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 George Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Tom Donnelly , 19 Matt Todd, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Sean Maitland.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
TMO: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)