The Crusaders are off to the perfect start in their quest to defend their Super Rugby 2018 title. But as expected whenever an outcome; such as when the Crusaders beat Chiefs or in any of the New Zealand local derby games, it doesn’t come without a few ‘talking points’.
Three yellow cards, a penalty try, and a Crusader blowout will be the talking points from the 45-23 result at AMI Stadium, in Christchurch.
For the Crusaders, they won’t feel like major victors, but their title defense is off to a winning start. Able to survive 20-minutes of rugby with a man down, Scott Robertson will have good and bad points for the Monday morning meeting. For the Chiefs, work in the forward pack needs to be done, plus a bit of time spent in front of the video looking at how to adapt midway through the set play.
Chiefs clawback after rocky opening 20-minutes
The Chiefs were able to claw their way back in the match, after a rocky first 20-minutes. Filled with mistakes and a lack of execution with the ball in hand.
As the referee’s whistle began to dominated proceedings, both sides should have had players sent from the field. Ben O’Keeffe, the referee for this match, was harsher on the Crusaders, and understandably so. Richie Mo’unga was given a ten-minute spell for foul play in the ruck, and Michael Alaalatoa was lucky enough to only see yellow; after a swinging arm on Damian McKenzie.
When Alaaltoa departed, the Chiefs scored their first try and quickly followed that up with another before the halftime break. The Chiefs two touch downs answered the three earlier Crusaders tries, scored by Matt Todd, Richie Mo’unga, and Jordan Taufua.
A cracking try by @SamCane7 and Solomon Alaimalo makes it a two-point ball game
— Ultimate Rugby (@ultimaterugby) February 24, 2018
Collectively, 36-points had been scored in the opening half, with the Crusaders holding the edge at the halfway point. Once the game restarted, a penalty to the Chiefs saw the Crusaders behind for the first time in the match.
Now under pressure, the champions hit back as the Chiefs defense wore down. Skipper Sam Whitelock going over with the Chiefs defenders outnumbered. That swung the momentum back in the home teams favour, but the story of the match was about to take another, more controversial turn.
Controversial Penalty Try sees Crusaders beat Chiefs
It wouldn’t be a close encounter in the New Zealand conference without a little controversy. With the Crusaders hot on attack and on the five-metre line, Ryan Crotty was tackled high whilst attempting to score.
After several looks at the replay, Lachlan Boshier was ruled to have stopped a certain try with the high tackle (see main picture). For the third time of the night, a yellow card was handed down by referee O’Keeffe. As well, the Crusaders were also awarded a penalty try that had both teams fans discussing the call late into the night.
The TMO ruled that the actions of the player were incriminating enough, that his tackle around the head area was a danger to the offensive player. Ryan Crotty required treatment, and the amount of time taken only added to the drama of the night. The resulting seven points added to the enormous pressure, which told on many of the Chiefs players.
Perhaps ironically, the final ‘nail in the coffin’ came from a mistake by the one man everyone had been talking about prior to this match.
Damian McKenzie’s tough first night as Chiefs Pivot
The much-anticipated injection of the talented young All Black Damian McKenzie, into the number 10 role of pivot for the Chiefs, had worked well in parts. Although several no-look miss-passes led to the Chiefs being on the back foot, and costing a try later in the match.
It wasn’t the best performance, with the biggest of McKenzie’s errors leading to Crusader points. Perhaps McKenzie felt the pressure, but his inability to read the speed of the opposition defense was a big sign of ‘more work to be done’.
But it wasn’t all bad on the part of McKenzie. Clearly wanting to inject himself into the match, McKenzie caught his opposition napping on a couple of occasions, running out of the backline to snap possession from the forwards and creating holes to run through.
McKenzie was also flawless from the kicking tee, and again, managed to play for the full 80-minutes, something he did a lot last season. Time in the saddle, should polish-up his game play in the pivot role.
Injury concerns as Chiefs return to Hamilton
There will be some tired, sore, and banged up bodies onboard the aircraft, as the Chiefs quickly fly back to Hamilton this morning. Dominic Bird and Charlie Ngatai had joined Mitch Brown on the injury list by the 60-minute mark, leaving the Chiefs bench more than a little depleted as the Crusaders edged back into the lead.
Liam Messam, for example, had to play nearly a full game in his ageing body when he would have been expecting to fill in for the last quarter.
Added to that, Marty McKenzie is unlikely to be available for the clash against the Blues, after being knocked out during the match, and must meet the HIA protocols as a result.
Crusaders beat Chiefs 45-23 in Controversial Super Rugby clash
Both sides will be disappointed that they gave away so many penalties, but at the very least, the season is finally underway after a long build up.
Next week, the Crusaders will play the Stormers at home. While the deflated Chiefs will travel to Auckland, where they meet the Blues on Friday night.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images