Crusaders pour on late pressure for big win

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Saturday, February 24, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Two late intercept tries, one a superb pick-up by George Bridge, blew the score out in a game which resulted in some injury carnage, especially for the Chiefs.

The penalty try came after a Lachlan Boshier tackle when defending the Chiefs line as Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty was attempting to score a try.

Boshier's tackle was across the chest but it slipped to shoulder high as Crotty dived at the line with the defender having nowhere to go.

With the replacement flanker Boshier receiving a yellow card, and the Chiefs forced to throw caution to the wind, the topsy-turvy game was finally swung the way of the Crusaders and while the decision appeared harsh by former standards it is part of the policing of the modern game.

It had been a struggle all night with the Chiefs down 3-19 at one stage.

Having started promisingly, courtesy of a break by centre Anton Lienert-Brown 39 seconds into the game when he was fed into space by first five-eighths Damian McKenzie, the Chiefs failed to build on that and while they held the lead briefly in the second half, they were unable to sustain momentum.

It was typical of the Crusaders approach that they cleared their territory from that first incursion and, with the aid of Chiefs penalties, the inevitable happened with centre Jack Goodhue running into open space to link with fullback David Havili. Halfback Bryn Hall attempted to get over from the ruck but it was flanker Matt Todd who crossed five minutes after the start.

McKenzie kicked the ball out on the full and Canterbury built another position although it was from a Chiefs lineout that second five-eighths Johnny Fa'auli collided with Crotty. The ball dropped free and first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga was able to toe it ahead, get the favourable bounce and score.

Compounding the early frustrations for the Chiefs were lineout issues and the loss of flanker Mitchell Brown to a head injury in the first quarter with Liam Messam taking his place. Late shoulder charges by McKenzie and lock Brodie Retallick, and a blocking offence by prop Nepo Laulala, resulted in unnecessary penalties being committed. And then lock Dominic Bird was forced out with a shoulder injury.

Not even the loss of Mo'unga to the sinbin to a breakdown offence while off his feet could deny the Crusaders. There was an embarrassing miss at a penalty kick at goal by Havili, when the ball dropped off the tee as he went to kick it. But the Crusaders were undeterred and more pressure wore down the Chiefs defence and space was provided out wide for loose forward Jordan Taufua to score.

Chiefs spirits were not down and after some effective tidying work by wing Shaun Stevenson the ball was moved for McKenzie to fire a short pass to flanker Sam Cane who raced into the gap 45m out from the line and then unleashed his speed, some evasive running and went over for a stunning try – one of the finest of his career in what was a superb individual game.

Discipline issues were not confined to the Chiefs as prop Michael Alaalatoa found when sin-binned for a head-high tackle on McKenzie.

And the Chiefs were able to take advantage of that when playing under penalty advantage in the Crusaders' 22 they were able to create a chance for wing Solomon Alaimalo to break the line and score to get the Chiefs back to 17-19 down at the break.

While McKenzie landed a 56th minute penalty goal to give the Chiefs a one-point lead, the Crusaders worked their scrum power to advantage. It was from a 61st minute scrum that Crotty punched hard at the line and gave Goodhue the chance to run hard into the 22m area and from the ruck, replacement hooker Ben Funnell timed a pass for lock Sam Whitelock to charge at the line to score.

It was evidence that the finishing strength that marked the Crusaders' successful campaign in 2017 is likely to continue in 2018.

Scorers: Crusaders 45 (Matt Todd, Richie Mo'unga, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock , penalty try, George Bridge, Manasa Mataele tries; Mo'unga 3 con; David Havili con) Chiefs 23 (Sam Cane, Solomon Alaimalo tries; Damian McKenzie 2 con, 3 pen). HT: 19-17