It was close but the Crusaders got their season off to a winning start when holding out the Chiefs in a 19-13 victory at AMI Stadium.

The defending champions looked to be in trouble in the final minutes when defending a narrow 14-13 lead, but centre Casey Laulala scored his second try of the night to clinch it on the hooter. Laulala said afterwards: "You never know how you will go in the first game so to get that win is a real boost to the confidence."

It was a gutsy performance from the Crusaders, who made many mistakes against a strong Chiefs side in front of a crowd of 15,500. The Chiefs had a dangerous halfback in Brendon Leonard and many threats out wide in fullback Mils Muliaina, centre Richard Kahui and wings Sitiveni Sivivatu and Lelia Masaga.

However, the Crusaders had their own dangermen, with Laulala and Tim Bateman (the other Crusaders try-scorer) getting the better of the Chiefs midfield, and Jared Payne having a storming game on the right wing in his first game for the Crusaders.

Colin Slade also stood up well in this first Rebel Sport Super 14 match when up against All Black first-five Stephen Donald. Thomas Waldrom had a good game when marking former All Blacks No8 Sione Lauaki and Bronson Murray was the other player to earn his first Crusaders cap, the prop coming on to replace Ben Franks in the second half.

The Chiefs had come off pre-season victories over the Highlanders, Blues and Hurricanes and so very nearly made it four in a row last night. They had also gone into the game having beaten the Crusaders in the last two meetings, so their confidence was sky-high.

It was tight in the early stages, with the Crusaders enjoying the territorial advantage and showing some nice touches in the backs - especially from Colin Slade and Laulala. Richie McCaw went close after receiving the ball via a Kieran Read steal from a Chiefs lineout but he lost it near the line.

It was Laulala who scored the opener after 14 minutes for the Crusaders when running on to a clever left-foot through-kick from Slade. It was a deserved score for the centre, who had been held back by a Chiefs defender on his way to diving on the ball. Slade added the extras and it was 7-0 for the Crusaders, a fair reflection of the weight of possession and territory they had enjoyed.

Slade missed a chance to put the Crusaders further ahead when off-target with a penalty and the Chiefs made the Crusaders pay when enjoying some luck to score a five-pointer. A sliced Donald kick in the middle of the park bounced into the arms of Masaga and he passed inside for Kahui to score in the corner. The Crusaders went straight back on to attack but, frustratingly for them, the final pass couldn't quite find the man.

They survived a scare when Kade Poki and Slade had a mix-up which put the Chiefs hot on attack but the Crusaders struck back when a similar mistake between Masaga and first-five Donald put the ball into Bateman's hands and the Crusaders second-five ran 50m to score a wonderful individual try. Slade converted to make it 14-5.

The Chiefs struck first blood after the break when Donald kicked a penalty after Andy Ellis was offside at a scrum. It was all Chiefs now and Leonard was held up over the line by Slade and Ellis. A piece of Waldrom magic where he dived on the ball, dummied and set up an attack was foiled only when a Chiefs player knocked his pass down when a try was on. The Crusaders stayed on attack but couldn't make it pay when Slade missed a penalty.

Then the Chiefs roared straight back. Masaga scored in the right corner after the Crusaders lost a scrum on the left. Lauaki made a good break, the Chiefs ran right and Masaga outflanked the defence. Donald narrowly missed the conversion but the score was 14-13 and the Chiefs were punishing the Crusaders errors.

In a thrilling final few minutes, Stephen Brett, on for Leon MacDonald, got the ball and kicked deep. McCaw and Laulala charged down Sivivatu's kick in-goal to force a 5m scrum. The Crusaders launched a series of forward rumbles before the backs spun it for Laulala to step inside a few defenders and score the clinching try. Slade's conversion attempt bounced back off a post but the Crusaders had done enough.

Todd Blackadder's first match as head coach was a successful one and the Crusaders had got off to a winning start. Blackader said afterwards: "We made mistakes but we did create a lot of opportunities so that was very pleasing." He also added: "We had to guts it out at times. It didn't go our way tonight but we came through."

The Crusaders lost fullback MacDonald to a shoulder injury and he will be assessed tomorrow by the medical staff.

Crusaders - Tries: Laulala 2, Bateman. Cons: Slade 2.

Chiefs - Tries: Kahui, Masaga. Pen: Donald.

HT: 14-5

1. Wyatt Crockett
2. Corey Flynn
3. Ben Franks (17. Bronson Murray 67th min)
4. Brad Thorn (18. Isaac Ross 57th)
5. Ross Filipo (19. George Whitelock 67th)
6. Kieran Read
7. Richie McCaw (c)
8. Thomas Waldrom
9. Andy Ellis
10. Colin Slade
11. Kade Poki
12. Tim Bateman
13. Casey Laulala
14. Jared Payne
15. Leon MacDonald (21. Stephen Brett 72nd)

Reserves not used:
16. Jason Macdonald
20. Kahn Fotuali'i
22. Adam Whitelock