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Off the mark with a win v The Chiefs

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Well there it is, the Crusaders first win of the season earned emphatically over the Chiefs at home in Christchurch. The monkey is off the back and as captain on the night Tom Christie said, “there’s a long way to go yet…but it was a step in the right direction”.


Crusaders v Chiefs was the second match of the Friday, with Matatu taking on Hurricanes Poua from 4.00pm. Matatū found their first win too, making it a great day all round for fans of the two Christchurch-based sides.


The hosts set the scene early with tries to Chay Fihaki and man-of-the-match Johnny McNicholl within the first fifteen minutes. Fihaki collected a well-timed grubber along the right flank from Noah Hotham to kick things off, while McNicholl put the finishing touches on a team effort within the 22, making up the metres within the goal area to make Riley Hohepa’s conversion an easier affair.


It was a great night for the forwards, their line out and set piece markedly improved from previous weeks. On top of discipline and structure, several got away to dot down some points.


Cullen Grace’s diving try would win awards if there was one for best try from a forward, crashing over in the 23rd minute to extend the lead to 19-5 after Hohepa’s conversion. Some action from the Chiefs through George Dyer and earlier from Emoni Narawa, and a penalty right on halftime for Hohepa had the boys heading to the sheds 22-12 up.  

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The mood was good and the halftime talk better. George Bell must’ve taken the lion’s share of inspiration from the break, dashing 42 metres cross field after breaking clean through the Chiefs’ defensive line in the 43rd minute. He touched down in the left corner after, outpacing the Chiefs’ 10 Josh Jacomb. Absolutely beautiful scenes for the red and black fans in the stands.


The Chiefs looked to be all set to chase down the 27-12 lead after Anton Lienert-Brown sliced through defences to touch down as the clock ticked towards the 60 minute mark, converted by Josh Ioane to cut the lead to eight.


But then, Johnny McNicholl, on his first start with the Crusaders since 2016, collected an intercept pass two minutes later and ran 80 metres in full flight to dive down in front of a rampant South Stand at Apollo Projects Stadium. Sure it looked good on TV, but nothing compares to the emotion and noise of that moment unfolding live in front of you.


Happy days in Christchurch on Friday. The team is on their bye week now, regrouping before a multi-week trip to Australia to face the Waratahs on 12 April and the Force on 20 April.  


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