The Chiefs come away with the win in Hamilton as the Crusaders now eye the remaining rounds to take their place near the top of the Super Rugby Pacific ’23 table.
It was an action-packed night at FMG Stadium on Saturday 29 April, 2023. The Crusaders, six-straight winners of the competition faced a red-hot Chiefs, unbeaten so far this year.
More than 23,000 packed the stands to witness the spectacle, not an empty seat in the house. Tamaiti Williams opened the scoring quickly in the 5th, collecting the end of a Leicester Fainga’anuku break away up the centre. Converted by Richie Mo’unga to make it 7-0 before Damian Mackenzie closed the gap with a successful penalty moments later. 7-3
An in-form Dallas McLeod, making his form known with only months to go until the Rugby World Cup in France, dotted down for a runaway try in the 13th, only for it to be disallowed due to a knock on.
Mckenzie brought the scores close to level in the 17th with another successful penalty to make it 7-6.
The action continued after Mackenzie punted a high ball into the head of a fellow Chief Luke Jacobson, collected by the Crusaders who got the ball to Sam Whitelock, playing his 350th First Class game. He offloaded beautifully to Captain Scott Barrett who crashed over for a try – again disallowed after it was deemed to be knocked on earlier in the piece.
The Crusaders had the opportunity and momentum in the opening 25 before the tide seemed to shift the Chiefs’ way. A penalty in the 31st made it the Chiefs game at 7-9. Another three-pointer for the hosts made the score as they went to the sheds 7-12.
Crusaders Assistant Coach Scott Hansen talked at halftime of needing to build intensity and make adjustments to counter some windy conditions, while creating space to attack.
The Chiefs came out strong in the second 40 with Brodie Retallick crashing over in the 44th, converted by Mackenzie to make it 7-19.
A huge rolling maul from the Crusaders in the top left of the field resulted in a penalty try for Codie Taylor, an automatic seven points bringing up a scoreline of 14-17. Luke Jacobsen shown a yellow for his part taking the Chiefs down to 14 for 10 minutes.
Braydon Ennor was a sure thing for a try at the 60 minute mark, denied by some solid defense from Mckenzie.
Moments later the ball ended up in the hands of Mo’unga who offloaded to Ennor on the right wing. A crazy inside pass found Fergus Burke who touched down in style. Mo’unga showed his class with a banana through the uprights, facing both the wind and the crowd noise to make it 21-19. Crusaders retake the lead.
Oli Jager made his long-awaited return to Super Rugby in the 62nd, coming into the front row with Kershawl Skyes-Martin.
Damien Mackenzie slotted a penalty in the 68th to retake the lead for the locals 21-22, before the lead see-sawed back to the Crusaders thanks to a Mo’unga penalty minutes later. 24-22.
Mckenzie continued to make an impact moments later, cutting through the red and black defense for a Shaun Stevenson offload. Stevenson was almost stopped at the try line by Ennor but no luck. No extras from Mackenzie and the score was 24-27 with minutes to play.
The Chiefs brought it home in front of their sell-out home crowd Tyrone Thompson found the line in the dying moments, converted by Mckenzie for a final score of 24-34 to the Chiefs.
It was a battle for the ages in Hamilton, as it was destined to be. Congrats to the Chiefs on a well-earned victory.
The Crusaders now turn their focus to two games at home in Christchurch, as we count down the final rounds before finals footy. Saturday’s results puts the Crusaders in 5th on the table, the Chiefs remaining in the No. 1 spot another week.
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