Crusaders' boots off-target in loss to Chiefs

OPENING DEFEAT: The expression of Richie McCaw's face says it all after the Crusaders missed seven penalties in an 18-10 loss to the Chiefs.
OPENING DEFEAT: The expression of Richie McCaw's face says it all after the Crusaders missed seven penalties in an 18-10 loss to the Chiefs.

A late intercept try to James Lowe and a dreadful night for the Crusaders' goal kickers, in which they missed seven penalties, gifted the Chiefs their 18-10 win in Christchurch last night.

What grates most about this defeat is that the Crusaders, who were so keen to begin the Super Rugby season with a victory against the injury-depleted defending champions at Christchurch Stadium, failed to pick up a competition point.

Lowe's try, when he intercepted Nafi Tuitavake's pass to sprint 80m, may have been the final tack in the coffin but it was the poor kicking that was the killer.

So wonky were the kicking displays of Tyler Bleyendaal, and to a lesser degree Tom Taylor, that it seemed an invisible force field was pushing the ball away from the goal posts.

In perfect conditions the Crusaders squandered a potential 21 points before frustrated skipper Richie McCaw elected for attacking lineouts instead of kicks in the second half.

It was excruciating to watch first five-eighth Bleyendaal miss his kicks. He looked a dejected after missing his final attempt on the halftime bell before being replaced by Taylor in the second half.

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder defended the decision not to replace Bleyendaal earlier.

"His goal kicking to date has been really good and we just had a player on the night who didn't quite perform his tasks," Blackadder said.

"If we hooked every player for the odd missed kick we would be out of bench reserves. It was just one of those things that happened in sport."

Adding to the Crusaders angst was that the magnificent scrambling defence of the Chiefs harried them into errors, while their skipper Aaron Cruden proved why he is so highly rated up north.

Cruden ran cleverly on attack, tackled gamely and ensured the defending champions retained their self-belief as the Crusaders repeatedly battered away in the final quarter.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie remarked his side only had about 33 per cent possession and ranked it one of his men's most memorable defensive displays.

"I think so because it was against such a good side. To play without so much pill – there was some pretty miraculous stuff going on in there."

The Crusaders' problem was that the more they tried, the less success they had at punching their way through the black-and-gold wall.

One of the biggest moments for the Crusaders came when lock Sam Whitelock unleashed some individual brilliance to grab a lineout ball and charge 20m to score in the second half, barging over in the tackle of the replacement outside back Lowe.

Self-inflicted wounds left the Crusaders starting at an empty scoreboard at halftime and referee Chris Pollock had an impact.

Lock Dominic Bird was yellow carded in the 37th minute for using his mitts in the ruck, and didn't the 17,000 fans in the full house voice their dissent.

At least the Crusaders knew referee Pollock was consistent, watching him sin-bin Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna for flopping on a ruck minutes later.

Few of the sell-out stadium would have begrudged Robbie Fruean for scoring the only try in that first spell and what a sweet moment it must have been for the hulking centre.

Chiefs 18 (Robbie Fruean, James Lowe tries, Aaron Cruden conv, 2 pens) Crusaders 10 (Sam Whitelock try; Tom Taylor conv, pen) HT: 8-0

The Press