Crusaders join Chiefs in leading NZ's charge

21:20, Mar 23 2013
Chiefs v Highlanders
Liam Messam tries to avoid the tackle of Ma'a Nonu during his side's opening round win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Patrick Osborne dives over for a try against the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Tawera Kerr-Barlow clears the ball during the Chiefs' win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Gareth Anscombe gets caught in a tackle on his Chiefs debut against the Highlanders.
Gareth Anscombe
Gareth Anscombe goes over to score for the Chiefs against the Cheetahs.
Tim Nanai-Williams
Tim Nanai-Williams tries to evade a tackler.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam on the charge.
Brodie Retallick
Brodie Retallick gets an offload away.
Chiefs
Stormers wing Bryan Habana is tackled during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and the Chiefs.
Sam Cane gallery
Sam Cane charges headlong into the Stormers' defence.
Tanerau Latimer
Tanerau Latimer looks to spread the ball wide.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam charges ahead for the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Kings
Andrew Horrell makes a break for the Chiefs during their bonus point win over the Southern Kings.
Chiefs v Kings
Lelia Masaga makes a run during his triple-try scoring effort against the Kings.
Chiefs v Kings
Hika Elliot in action against the Southern Kings.
Chiefs v Kings
Liam Messam gets his side fired up during his 100th Super Rugby game for the Chiefs against the Southern Kings.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Liam Messam receives a greenstone mere from former Chiefs coach Ian Foster during a special presentation to celebrate his 100th game for the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Liam Messam fans show some love for the Chiefs co-captain's 100th game celebrations.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Richard Kahui makes a break in his return for the Chiefs during their win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Aaron Cruden fends off Highlanders counterpart Colin Slade.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Tim Nanai-Williams is congratulated after scoring the Chiefs' only try in their win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Andrew Horrell comes up just short in his dive for the try line.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Michael Fitzgerald of the Chiefs charges forward during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Richard Kahui of the Chiefs dives over to score a try during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Aaron Cruden with the ball during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Richard Kahui on the charge during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Quade Cooper
The Reds' Quade Cooper is tackled by the Chiefs' Aaron Cruden during their clash in Hamilton.
Bundee Aki
Chief Bundee Aki goes over to score a try against the Reds in Hamilton.
Chiefs gallery
Gareth Anscombe streaks away from the Waratahs defence.
Chiefs gallery
Sitaleki Timani receives a yellow card.
Chiefs gallery
Aaron Cruden spins it wide against the Waratahs.
Chiefs gallery
The Chiefs huddle under the posts after conceding a try to the Waratahs.
Chiefs v Sharks
Bundee Aki dives over for a try during the Chiefs win over the Sharks at Waikato Stadium.
Chiefs v Sharks
Asaeli Tikoirotuma attempts to break through a Sharks tackle.
Chiefs v Sharks
Ben Tameifuna on the charge against the Sharks.
Chiefs v Sharks
Liam Messam helps carry the load against the Sharks in Hamilton.
Chiefs
Gareth Anscombe goes in to score against the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs
Sam Cane (second from left) is congratulated by team-mates after scoring against the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs
Brendon Leonard (right) takes on his opposite number Nick Phipps of the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs
Bundee Aki celebrates after scoring a try against the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs season 2013
Robbie Robinson of the Chiefs competes for a high ball against Kyle Godwin of the Force.
Chiefs season 2013
Ben McCalman of the Force is tackled by Matt Vant Leven during their Round 13 Super Rugby clash.
Chiefs season 2013
Brett Sheehan watches the Force and Chiefs packs contest a scrum.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Tawera Kerr-Barlow spins it wide against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Liam Messam charges into the gap for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Prop Ben Afeaki charges into the open for the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Aaron Cruden gets a kick away under pressure from Hurricanes lock Ben May.
Chiefs gallery
Aaron Cruden goes in to score the opening try against the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery
Tanerau Latimer (left) and Tawera Kerr-Barlow wrap up George Whitelock of the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery
Robbie Robinson in action against the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery
Liam Messam charges ahead against the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery 2013
A see of Chiefs flags welcomes the NZ conference leaders ahead of their game against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs gallery 2013
Matt Vant Leven climbs high to win a lineout against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs gallery 2013
Tim Nanai-Williams attempts to bust through the Hurricanes defence.
Chiefs gallery 2013
Lelia Masaga makes a break against the Hurricanes, with Matt Vant Leven in support.
Chiefs 2013
Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs runs with the ball into defender Tom Marshall of the Crusaders during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs runs with the ball during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs celebrates his try with Ben Tameifuna during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013
Ross Filipo of the Chiefs tackles Dan Carter of the Crusaders after a kick in the Crusaders in goal during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Blues
Andrew Horrell in action for the Chiefs in their regular season finale win over the Blues.
Chiefs v Blues
Ben Tameifuna on the charge for the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Blues
Bundee Aki scores at full stretch against the Blues.
Chiefs v Blues
Aaron Cruden converts a try during the Chiefs' win over the Blues.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Liam Messam takes on the Crusaders defence.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Asaeli Tikoirotuma is downed by Owen Franks.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Fans in full voice as the Chiefs take on the Crusaders.

One team won ugly. One in style. But there was nothing that happened in Hamilton or Christchurch to suggest the Chiefs and the Crusaders won't be the New Zealand teams challenging for the Super title in August.

The poor Southern Kings, battered by the vicious politics of South Africa rugby at home, were almost instantly slapped into a state of slack jawed horror by a Crusaders side playing like the Crusaders, not the fumbling imposters of the early rounds. When George Whitelock plunged over for the first try, it was after 25 passes, all delivered at high speed, some under pressure, without a hint of anyone knocking the ball on, or misreading a move.

At its best, and there were some gold standard moments last night, the Crusaders' style, like much that's great in sport, is fiendishly difficult, but looks simple.

Dan Carter
Dan Carter flings it wide.
Crusaders
Crusaders win the lineout against the Blues at Eden Park.
Crusaders
The Crusaders gather behind their goal-line after conceding a try to the Blues.
Robbie Fruean
Robbie Fruean on the charge for the Crusaders against the Blues.
Kieran Read
Kieran Read looks on disconsolately after the Crusaders one-point loss to the Hurricanes.
Ryan Crotty
Ryan Crotty makes a break for the Crusaders.
Israel Dagg
Israel Dagg (centre) celebrates with team-mates after scoring against the Hurricanes.
Dan Carter
Dan Carter chases down the loose ball.
Crusaders v Bulls
Robbie Fruean celebrates his try as the Crusaders finally get a win this season over the Bulls.
Crusaders v Bulls
Ryan Crotty makes a break during the Crusaders win over the Bulls.
Crusaders v Bulls
Tom Marshall fends off a Bulls tackle.
Crusaders v Bulls
Zac Guildford watches from the stands as the Crusaders beat the Bulls.
Crusaders v Bulls
Captain Kieran Read was a standout in the Crusaders win over the Bulls in Christchurch.
Zac Guildford runs the ball against the Kings.
Zac Guildford runs the ball against the Kings.
Crusaders vs Kings
Dan Carter is a tackled by a Kings player.
Crusaders vs Kings
The Crusaders score a try against the Kings.
The Crusaders score a try against the Kings
The Crusaders score a try against the Kings
Crusaders 2013 Season
The Crusaders celebrate the win during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Crusaders in Cape Town.
Crusaders 2013 Season
Crusaders celebrate the try of Matt Todd during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Crusaders in Cape Town.
Crusaders 2013 Season
Tom Marshall of the Crusaders during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Crusaders in Cape Town.
Crusaders 2013 Season
Matt Todd of the Crusaders scores a try during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and Crusaders in Cape Town.
Crusaders v Sharks
Owen Franks is tackled during the Crusaders 21-17 loss to the Sharks in Durban.
Crusaders v Sharks
Andy Ellis scores a try during the Crusaders' loss to the Sharks.
Crusaders v Sharks
Franco van der Merwe of the Sharks out-jumps Sam Whitelock.
Crusaders v Sharks
The Sharks celebrate their win over the Crusaders in Durban.
Crusaders v Force
Israel Dagg is tackled by the Force's Junior Raolea.
Crusaders v Force
Sam Whitelock breaks a line during the Crusaders' loss to the Force.
Crusaders v Force
Luke Romano dives over for a try which would later be disallowed.
Crusaders v Force
Robbie Fruean fends off Kyle Godwin as the Crusaders went down to the Force in Perth.
Crusaders gallery
The Crusaders celebrate after scoring a try against the Highlanders.
Crusaders gallery
Luke Whitelock charges into the Highlanders defence.
Crusaders gallery
Israel Dagg tries to evade the tackle.
Crusaders gallery
Zac Guildford chases after the loose ball.
Crusaders gallery
Owen Franks of the Crusaders charges into Nic Stirzaker of the Rebels.
Crusaders gallery
Ben Funnell is taken in the tackle by the Rebels.
Crusaders gallery
Dan Carter made his return to action for the Crusaders against the Rebels.
Crusaders gallery
George Whitelock leads the Crusaders on to AMI Stadium for the game against the Rebels.
Crusaders gallery
Dan Carter is taken in the tackle.
Crusaders gallery
Ryan Crotty on the charge against the Brumbies.
Crusaders gallery
Sam Whitelock gets a pass away in the tackle.
Crusaders gallery
Robbie Fruean (left) and Joe Moody celebrate after the Crusaders win over the Brumbies in Canberra.
Crusaders 2013 gallery
Andy Ellis talks to the crowd after being presented with a mere in recognition of playing 100 games for the Crusaders.
Crusaders 2013 gallery
Dan Carter unleashes a kick for the Crusaders against the Blues.
Crusaders 2013 gallery
Sam Whitelock takes breather during the clash against the Blues.
Crusaders 2013 gallery
Crusaders fans show their support for the team in the clash against the Blues.
Crusaders 2013
Ben Funnell spins the ball wide against the Chiefs.
Crusaders 2013
Zac Guildford (centre) and the Crusaders lament their loss to the Chiefs.
Crusaders 2013
Andy Ellis surveys his options from the base of the scrum against the Crusaders.
Crusaders 2013
Tom Taylor attempts a shot at goal against the Chiefs.
Crusaders season 2013
Dominic Bird of the Crusaders attended to by the team doctor during his side's Round 16 clash with the Waratahs in Christchurch.
Crusaders season 2013
Zac Guildford of the Crusaders passes the ball back to Kieran Read under pressure from Waratah Kane Douglas.
Crusaders season 2013
Luke Romano wins a lineout for the Crusaders against the Waratahs.
Crusaders season 2013
Michael Hopper of the Waratahs makes a charge against the Crusaders at AMI Stadium.
Super Rugby Gallery
Willi Heinz of the Crusaders is tackled by Ben Smith of the Highlanders during the round 18 Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders.
Super Rugby Gallery
Tom Marshall of the Crusaders is dumped by Ma'a Nonu of the Highlanders during the round 18 Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders.
Super Rugby Gallery
Highlanders player Ben Smith jumping in the air for the ball with Crusaders Matt Todd & Dan Carter.
Super Rugby Gallery
Highlanders player Hosea Gear being tackled by Crusaders players Dan Carter (left) & George Whitelock.
Super Rugby Gallery
Sam Whitelock of the Crusaders is tackled by Kade Poki of the Highlanders during the round 18 Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders.
Crusaders vs Chiefs
Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg celebrates.
Crusaders vs Chiefs
Crusaders first five-eighth Dan Carter.
Crusaders vs Chiefs
Crusaders Kieran Read on his way to the try-line.
Crusaders vs Chiefs
Kieran Read runs out at AMI stadium.
Crusaders vs Chiefs
Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg takes off.
Crusaders vs Chiefs
Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty tries to escape Chiefs flanker Sam Cane.
Crusaders gallery 2013
Kieran Read leads the Crusaders on to AMI Stadium for their final regular season game against the Hurricanes.
Crusaders gallery 2013
Halfback Willi Heinz gets a kick away against the Hurricanes.
Crusaders gallery 2013
Brothers Ben (left) and Owen Franks catch up after going head to head for the Hurricanes and Crusaders.
Crusaders gallery 2013
Dan Carter gestures to an assistant referee during the game against the Hurricanes.
Crusaders vs Reds
Ryan Crotty dives over to score for the Crusaders.
Crusaders vs Reds
Dan Carter strolls over the line to score a try.
Crusaders vs Reds
Richie McCaw looks on from the Crusaders bench during his side's Super Rugby qualifier with the Reds.
Crusaders vs Reds
Sam Whitelock takes on the Reds defence.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Liam Messam takes on the Crusaders defence.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Asaeli Tikoirotuma is downed by Owen Franks.

They run straight, they bounce up after a tackle, back up ferociously, and the ball isn't dropped.

That's easy to say, but since 1998 hardly any other side has consistently managed it.

The Stormers and the Sharks in South Africa over the next fortnight won't be the roadkill the Kings were but even without Dan Carter Cape Town and Durban will see a visiting side that's found form. Add in the nice human touch of Zac Guildford returning sharp and industrious from his alcohol rehabilitation, and the game could have been scripted to help Christchurch fans sleep easy at night.

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Crusaders
SURGING BACK: After a slow start, the Crusaders now look the goods to reach the Super Rugby playoffs.

Likewise they shouldn't be twitchy in Hamilton. Very good teams can be bruised, travel-stained, and jet-lagged, yet still find a way to win. The year's Chiefs, just like last year's Chiefs, have learned how to do that.

One of the reasons to love rugby is that the game is never as straight forward as it seems.

Look at the Highlanders before the season started. A squad that had stunned some big-name teams last year was boosted by the steely addition of Tony Woodcock, Brad Thorn and Ma'a Nonu, and looked sure to take the full step into the big league. It all seemed so simple.

First stick in the spokes. Adam Thomson, who never found an automatic loose forward starting spot in the All Blacks, but is such a good player he was always on the verge of doing so, decides his future is in Japan, not Dunedin.

Second stick. Nasi Manu, a steam engine guys like Thomson work off, is injured. Third, and maybe the biggest stick of all, what was a massive strength in 2012, the bullet passing and dynamism at halfback of Aaron Smith, has dissipated to the point halfback is now almost a weak point for the Highlanders.

Last year Smith was so good he eclipsed the lionhearted Jimmy Cowan, and catapulted himself into the All Blacks. In one brilliant season he all but erased memories of a generation of meerkat halfbacks, who checked the terrain endlessly, and called for Steve 20 times, before deciding to clear the ball from a breakdown.

In Hamilton on Friday night there were scary signs the anxious posture of the Kalahari mongoose has wormed its way into Smith's play. In one embarrassing moment the ball had actually popped completely clear at his feet, but, his head up looking to see what was happening elsewhere, it took a verbal prompt from referee Jonathon White (actually to advancing Chiefs players) to make him look down at the ball.

Just maybe, now that he's a frontliner and not the promising kid any more, he's over-thinking his game. His natural style is a thing of rare beauty. If he can regain it there could be massive benefits for the Highlanders.

Footnote: As loath as I am to risk Susan Devoy slapping me across the head for straying into tricky race grounds, is there really ANY other rugby nation that was beaten 30-3 - that's 30-3 - in a test match, with the gall to suggest they may have been dudded by the referee?

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