HAMILTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Christchurch-based Crusaders rebounded from last week’s shock loss to the Hurricanes to beat the Chiefs 32-19 Saturday in Super Rugby Aotearoa, reinforcing their claim to the championship title.
The Crusaders’ first home loss in four years brought the Wellington-based Hurricanes and Auckland-based Blues into title contention in the New Zealand professional tournament, a substitute for the five-nation Super Rugby competition that was suspended in March.
Saturday’s convincing win over the Hamilton-based Chiefs strengthens the Crusaders’ position atop the tournament table with two rounds remaining in the 10-week season.
The Chiefs extended a club-record losing streak to eight games, including seven in a row this season under British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland.
“There was one point in it for a good part of the match and our bench came on and made a really big impact,” Crusaders captain Codie Taylor said. “We had a good look in the mirror (after the loss to the Hurricanes).
“We didn’t front up last week and we knew what sort of game we were coming up here for.”
The Crusaders started strongly, scoring two tries in the first 15 minutes for a 12-0 lead.
First backrower Tom Sanders charged down the left-hand touchline, put into space by George Bridge, and ran through the brave flanking tackle of Damian McKenzie to score. Then fullback Will Jordan scored his sixth try of the season, finishing a sprawling movement when he ran off Bridge’s short pass close to the line.
The Crusaders easily anticipated the Chiefs’ early tactics. McKenzie kicked short and too often and the Crusaders stationed Jordan and flyhalf Richie Mo’unga in the pocket to pick off the kicks. They were also aware of the Chiefs’ use of inside passes.
The Chiefs began to look more threatening when they stretched the Crusaders on the flanks, using wingers Shaun Stevenson and Sean Wainui, keeping the ball in hand.
They closed to 12-10 with a try to flanker Lachlan Boshier. But Taylor scored from a superbly executed lineout drive, giving his team a 17-10 lead at the break.
The Chiefs also lost Stevenson to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on just before halftime. They still profited in his absence with McKenzie kicking two penalties to cut the lead to 17-16.
The Crusaders led 20-19 after an exchange of penalties before a contentious try to winger Sevu Reece stretched their lead. Reece picked up the ball after it appeared to have been knocked forward by backrower Quinten Strange and the referee awarded a pivotal try.
Mo’unga then made a telling short-side break to set up a try for replacement Leicester Fainga’aunku that made the lead 32-19 and put the match beyond the Chiefs.
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