Crusaders hit top form to hammer Chiefs
RICHARD KNOWLER AT AMI STADIUM
Here come the Crusaders. Tonight's 43-15 win over the Chiefs guaranteed the Crusaders a place in the Super Rugby playoffs but it was ruthless way they ripped apart the defending champions that will have everyone talking this weekend.
This bonus-point victory wasn't just a warning shot to the Chiefs, who they may meet again in play-offs.
It was as if the Crusaders grabbed their opponents by the cheeks, shoved a blunderbuss to their ears and tugged the trigger.
The message was that emphatic: the Crusaders are peaking for the championship race at the right time.
And if the Chiefs cannot get a competition point against the Blues next weekend and the Crusaders grab maximum points against the Hurricanes the Christchurch franchise could win the New Zealand conference.
Although the juiciest angle of this battle was the match-up between first five-eighths Dan Carter and Aaron Cruden, anyone who watched this will know it was the Crusaders forwards who were the major players.
With skipper and No 8 Kieran Read, who scored two tries, and aggressive lock Sam Whitelock and tighthead prop Owen Franks breathing flames they fixed their bulldozer blades on the Chiefs at the breakdowns and pasted them into the turf.
While Cruden was often rendered powerless as his side's error-count kept climbing, Carter, who kicked seven of his nine shots at goal and became the first man to surpass 1500 Super Rugby points, was in superb form.
Imagine if Carter keeps this form up. If he does, anything is possible.
With Carter flourishing in the playmaker's role, his backline inflated with confidence. Fullback Israel Dagg made a couple of handling errors but his running game was back and when he scored his try in the second half, he zipped in from depth and at a frantic pace.
The late withdrawal of Liam Messam robbed the visitors of the All Blacks No 6 but had little to do with this humiliation for the visitors as the spring-like weather that has blessed Christchurch this week encouraged the Crusaders to fling the ball wide, especially in the first half when they attacked the left flank.
Early runs by Read and midfielder Ryan Crotty bent the Chiefs' defensive line and left wing Zac Guildford's chase from a Carter re-start resulted in a heavy hit on Bundee Aki.
Many coaches this year have bleated about the mayhem the Chiefs get away with around the breakdown and referee Jonathon White, heeding their calls, penalised them five times in that department in the opening 20 minutes.
It took a delightful sleight of hand by Cruden to finally allow the Chiefs to start evening-up the statistics in possession and territory in the first half.
Cruden, having charged down a Dagg clearance, used his uncanny eye-hand co-ordination to re-gather and set-up a ruck on the Crusaders line and observed halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow lob a cross-kick that allowed wing Aseli Tikoirotuma to score.
Crusaders openside flanker Matt Todd went into this battle with a point to prove against All Blacks team-mate Same Cane and the Kaiapoi kid's fan club must have near toppled off their stools when he unleashed a grubber late in the first half.
Todd, having split the line, fled into space and then produced a deft kick for Guildford to put his side hot on attack.
Although the Chiefs won the lineout, Robinson was captured behind his line as he attempted to clear and Read smashed over for a crucial try from the Crusaders' scrum on the stroke of halftime.
Crusaders 43 (Kieran Read 2, Israel Dagg, Ryan Crotty, Tyler Bleyendaal tries; Dan Carter 3 cons, 4 pens) Chiefs 15 (Aseli Tikoirotuma, Charlie Ngatai tries, Andrew Horrell con, Aaron Cruden pen). HT: 19-8
- © Fairfax NZ News
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