A late try to Bundee Aki and magnificent defence by his Chiefs team-mates left the Crusaders rueing a 28-19 loss last night.
When you travel to Waikato Stadium - and this could be a lesson that needs to be heeded by the Crusaders if these two sides meet in the Super Rugby play-offs - you cannot afford to mess with your chances by making errors.
And that is what the Crusaders did, and they were also forced to take an extra suck of the lemon when they watched Aaron Cruden kick a penalty on the fulltime bell to deny them a bonus point.
A couple of charge-downs, lost ball at crucial moments and allowing second five-eighth Bundee Aki too much space ahead of his 70th-minute try have left the Crusaders in the position where they may need to win their remaining four matches to secure a place in the finals.
Led by their thoroughbred No 8 Kieran Read, the Crusaders elected to again scrub their adventurous game-plan.
Tom Taylor slotted all five of his shots at goal but on several occasions Read instead demanded Dan Carter kick for touch in a bid to score tries from lineout ball.
It worked once - Matt Todd dotted down - but tenacious scrambling defence by the Chiefs and several crucial knock-ons, in which halfback Andy Ellis and Read were guilty, blew these opportunities.
Given the stakes, both forward packs were pulling at the bit from the opening bell, it was perhaps surprising it took until early in the second spell before a cheap shot was launched.
Chiefs tighthead prop Ben Tameifuna - who also spent plenty of time jabbering at his opponents - was the guilty party and fortunate not to be yellow carded for a late hit on second five-eighth Ryan Crotty.
It wasn't only unnecessary; it was dangerous.
Listed at 137kg - and he looks at least 8kg heavier - Tameifuna had the potential to turn the 91kg Crotty into tomato paste by blindsiding him so crudely.
Yet he escaped with just a penalty, the Crusaders continued to bait Tameifuna and the game rolled on.
Winning the turf wars was paramount for both sides.
The aerial ping-pong dominated as the forwards shuffled around with eyes raised to the heavens while their kickers repeatedly fired the ball over their heads.
Both of the Chiefs tries in the first half followed lineouts but could be attributed to their diligence and work ethic rather than execution.
Cruden, who scored all 15 of his side's points in the first half, could hardly believe his luck as his charge-down of Carter's clearance kick reaped him a try.
Carter, having shuffled for a moment too long, saw his left-foot clearance ricochet off 85kg of Manawatu muscle before pivoting to watch his All Blacks team-mate re-gather the ball and scamper towards the line.
There were some familiar pictures rolling into the photographers' frames when skipper Craig Clarke also struck the jackpot.
Having botched another lineout the Chiefs aligned their defence to pressure their opponents' ruck. Tom Marshall attempted to dig the Crusaders out of strife but he couldn't clear past the lurking 2m frame of Clarke who rammed the ball into the deck as he celebrated his touchdown.
Todd scored the Crusaders' only five-pointer, a result of captain Read spurning a kickable penalty and ordering Sam Whitelock to win quick lineout ball off the top before delivering the nut for a midfield ruck and drive.
Chiefs 28 (Aaron Cruden, Craig Clarke, Bundee Aki tries; 2 con, 3 pen) Crusaders 19 (Matt Todd try; Tom Taylor con, 4 pen). Halftime: 15-13.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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