A late Luke Romano try ensured the table-topping Crusaders downed the Chiefs 34-20 in their Super Rugby clash on Saturday.
It was a double celebration for the Crusaders as they strengthened their lead in the competition with their 10th consecutive win, and marked the record 200th appearance and 199th Super game by long-serving prop Wyatt Crockett.
For the Crusaders it was an anxious final 30 minutes after Luke Jacobson’s second try saw the Chiefs close to 27-20 at the 50-minute mark.
But the champions’ defence held to deny the Chiefs a potentially match-levelling try and with two minutes remaining Romano drove over to put the result beyond doubt and extend the Crusaders competition lead to nine points over the Hurricanes.
The Crusaders, already without injured Samuel Whitelock and Ryan Crotty, were forced into a late reshuffle when Jack Goodhue and Jordan Taufua were ruled out.
Despite the disruptions they dominated the opening 20 minutes and jumped to a 10-3 lead from a converted try to Heiden Bedwell-Curtis while All Blacks flyhalf rivals Richie Mo’unga and Damian McKenzie traded penalties.
“All the boys that came in, there were late changes, and credit to those boys. They’ve worked hard back home and when they got the opportunity they took it,” captain Matt Todd said while crediting the Crusaders lineout as a key difference.
“We put a lot of work into that during the week and it’s pleasing when we can get points out of it.”
Jitters hit the Crusaders midway through the first half allowing the Chiefs to strike back with tries in quick succession to Sean Wainui and Jacobson.
That forced the Crusaders to resort to their trump card, a dominant forward pack, which allowed them to control the remainder of the half.
McKenzie, unable to produce the same influence as Mo’unga, could not convert the Chiefs’ tries while the Crusaders pivot converted a try by Matt Todd and landed a second penalty to lead 20-13 at the turn.
George Bridge pushed the lead out to 27-13 soon after the resumption before Jacobson’s second set up the tense finish.
Man of the match: Charlie Ngatai was a force in the midfield for the Chiefs. David Havili did the same for the Crusaders and he won some crucial turnovers for his team. Richie Mo’unga and George Bridge were fantastic on attack and came close to the award. However, Chiefs forward Luke Jacobson wins the award for his powerful ball carries and work rate on defence. He also scored a couple of tries.
Tries: Wainui, Jacobson 2
Cons: D McKenzie
Tries: Bedwell-Curtis, Todd, Bridge, Romano
Cons: Mo’unga 3, Hunt
Pens: Mo’unga 2
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai (captain), 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Pita Gus Sowakula, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Jone Macilai, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 David Havili, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 7 Matt Todd (captain), 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Donald Brighouse, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Peter Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Tima Faingaanuku.
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Richard Kelly (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)