Chiefs Win Slugfest

Tim Nanai-Williams Super Rugby Chiefs CrusadersA pulsating game between the defending champion Chiefs and their fiercest rivals, the Crusaders, got New Zealand’s Super Rugby season off to a cracking start. After absorbing nearly ten minutes of constant attack from the home side without breaking, they moved a counter attack clear across the field to Robbie Fruean. The big centre did his best Jonah Lomu impression down the left flank, bursting through four would-be tacklers, to score a fantastic individual try against his former teammates.

The pace of the match was breathtaking, especially considering that it was a season opener. Each side made mistakes and the action was scrappy at times, but there was no lack of commitment from either with bodies strewn across the pitch at nearly every stoppage both from exhaustion and attrition. The Chiefs took the worst of it, losing Kane Thompson and Mils Muliaina in the first half, and both Brodie Retallick and Ben Afeaki in a sickening head clash in the second. Tevita Koloamatangi was so cramped and dehydrated he had to be carried from the field.

Yet champions, as ever, find a way to win, and once again Aaron Cruden was at his best. Wearing the captain’s armband for the first time was no hindrance, if anything it seemed to spur him on. Every facet of his performance was inspirational, whether making the half-breaks or tackling much larger opponents.

On the opposite end of the spectrum sat poor Tyler Bleyendaal. The youngster, fresh off a breakthrough ITM Cup season, was utterly dismal with the boot on this occasion, missing all five attempts at goal in the first half. Tom Taylor was brought on at the break to rectify the problem, but it appeared he shared the same radar technician as he missed two shots himself. In all 20 points were left begging through the abject kicking performance.

With the Crusaders losing confidence Sam Whitelock clawed them back in with something out of nothing. After receiving a lineout he somehow broke the tackle and shimmied just enough to beat the last defender to score a superb try. Taylor managed to convert, and after a period of parity added a penalty to close the gap.

It looked as though the home team would steal the win at the death with a final surge against the beleaguered Chiefs defense, but a miraculous intercept from James Lowe and an 80-odd metre sprint to the corner instead resigned them to a bitter defeat. It was terrific entertainment, and a great omen for what lies ahead.

CRUSADERS 10 vs 18 CHIEFS
Friday, February 21, 07:35 GMT, Christchurch

SCORING
10 mins – R. Fruean try 0-5
39 mins – A. Cruden pen 0-8
45 mins – A. Cruden pen 0-11
48 mins – S. Whitelock try 5-11
49 mins – T. Taylor con 7-11
73 mins – T. Taylor pen 10-11
79 mins – J. Lowe try 10-16
80 mins – A. Cruden con 10-18

CARDS
37 mins – D. Bird yellow (team infringements)
40 mins – B. Tameifuna yellow (team infringements)
43 mins – G. Whitelock yellow (professional foul)

CRUSADERS
I. Dagg; J. McNicholl, R. Lee-Lo, R. Crotty, N. Tuitavake; T. Bleyendaal (T. Taylor HT), A. Ellis (W. Heinz 56); T. Perry (W. Crockett HT), C. Flynn, O. Franks; S. Whitelock, D. Bird (L. Romano 56); G. Whitelock (M. Todd 56), R. McCaw (capt.), L. Whitelock.

CHIEFS
M. Muliaina (J. Lowe 37); T. Nanai-Williams, R. Fruean, C. Ngatai (A. Horrell 61), A. Tikoirotuma; A. Cruden (capt.), A. Pulu (B. Weber 74); J. Mackintosh (P. Manu 58), R. Marshall, B. Tameifuna (B. Afeaki 50-59); M. Fitzgerald, B. Retallick (T. Koloamatangi 59 {N. Harris 67}); L. Messam, T. Koloamatangi (B. Afeaki 42-50) (M. Symons 58), K. Thompson (N. Crosswell 18).

Referee: C. Pollock (NZRU)
Assistants: N. Briant (NZRU) & M. Lash (NZRU)
TMO: C. Watt (NZRU)

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