Chiefs the new Crusaders

19:36, Feb 22 2014
Aaron Cruden
Aaron Cruden barks out a play call during the Chiefs Super Rugby opener against the Crusaders.
Israel Dagg
Chiefs players Charlie Ngatai and Mils Muliaina attempt to bring down Israel Dagg.
Augustine Pulu and Tim Nanai-Williams
Chiefs players Augustine Pulu and Tim Nanai-Williams jump high for a high-ball against the Crusaders.
Robbie Fruean
Chiefs centre Robbie Fruean has a barnstroming game against his former Crusaders team.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow
Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow runs onto Waikato Stadium to face the Highlanders.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam runs into the tackle of Highlanders hooker Liam Coltman.
Tim Nanai-Williams
Chiefs fullback Tim Nanai-Williams glides through a gap in the Highlanders defensive line.
Chiefs fans
Chiefs fans enjoyed a two-point victory against the Highlanders.
Michael Fitzgerald
Chiefs lock Michael Fitzgerald charges forward at the Highlanders.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow
Chiefs halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow sprints away from a scrum.
Gareth Anscombe
Gareth Anscombe cuts through the Stormers' defence late in the game.
Aaron Cruden and Jean de Villiers
Aaron Cruden brings down Stormers second-five Jean de Villiers.
James Lowe
Chiefs wing James Lowe confronts the Stormers defence.
Tom Marshall
Tom Marshall toes the ball on in the Chiefs' impressive win over the Stormers.
2014 Chiefs season
Caille Visagie and Dean Greyling of the Bulls tackle Tom Marshall of the Chiefs at Loftus Versfeld.
2014 Chiefs season
Prop Ben Tameifuna of the Chiefs tries in vain to keep the ball under control against the Bulls in Pretoria.
Ben Tameifuna
Chiefs halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow tries to make a break against the Bulls in South Africa.
2014 Chiefs season
Jacques Du Plessis of the Bulls crashes trough the Chiefs' defensive line.
Chiefs 2014 Season
Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick lines up Cheetahs hooker Adriaan Strauss for a hard tackle.
Chiefs 2014 season
Michael Fitzgerald makes a charge for the Chiefs against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Chiefs 2014 season
Gareth Anscombe chases down a loose ball against the Cheetahs in South Africa.
Chiefs 2014 season
Chiefs halfback Augustine Pulu looks to offload after being grounded by the Melbourne Rebels' defence.
Chiefs 2014 season
Tom Marshall on the charge for the Chiefs against the Rebels in Hamilton.
Chiefs 2014 season
Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna makes a charge against the Rebels at Waikato Stadium.
Chiefs 2014 season
Sam Cane in action against the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs 2014 season
Gareth Anscombe of the Chiefs looks for support in the tackle of Kieran Reid of the Crusaders.
Chiefs 2014 season
Tom Marshall of the Chiefs loses possession in the slippery conditions during the Chiefs and Crusaders match.
Chiefs 2014 season
Tom Marshall of the Chiefs takes a high ball under pressure from Johnny McNicholl of the Crusaders.
Chiefs 2014 season
Christian Lealiifano of the Brumbies is tackled during their match against the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2014 season
Tevita Koloamatangi of the Chiefs is tackled during their match against the Brumbies.
Chiefs 2014 season
Liam Messam of the Chiefs runs the ball during their match against the Brumbies.
Chiefs 2014 Season
Gareth Anscombe of the Chiefs scores a try in the tackle of Franco Mostert of the Lions.
Chiefs 2014 season
Tim Nanai-Williams of the Chiefs scores a try against the Lions in Hamilton.
Chiefs 2014 season
Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna makes a charge at the Lions defence during their Super Rugby clash.
Chiefs 2014 season
Chiefs prop Jamie Mackintosh puts the head down to make some hard yards for his team against the Lions.
2014 Chiefs season
Fireworks go off at Yarrow Stadium ahead of the Chiefs' home clash with the Blues in New Plymouth.
2014 Chiefs season
Tom Marshall, centre, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a try for the Chiefs against the Blues in New Plymouth.
2014 Chiefs season
Chiefs fans delighted to get the chance to cheer their team on in New Plymouth.
2014 Chiefs season
Liam Messam, right, asks referee Mike Fraser to go to the TMO during the Chiefs' clash with the Blues.
Chiefs vs Waratahs
The Chiefs put the pressure on the Waratahs' Jacques Potgieter in New Plymouth.
Chiefs vs Waratahs
Kurtley Beale and Wycliff Palu take down Chiefs fullback Tom Marshall at Taranaki Stadium.
Conrad Smith
Hurricanes skipper Conrad Smith makes a pass during his side's clash with the Chiefs.
Tim Nanai-Williams
Tim Nanai-Williams is tackled by Dane Coles.
Brodie Retallick
Brodie Retallick runs it against the Hurricanes in Wellington.
Tawera Kerr-Barlow
Tawera Kerr-Barlow flicks a pass out during the Chiefs' clash with the Waratahs.
Aaron Cruden
Chiefs first-five Aaron Cruden attempts to sidestep a tackle during his side's clash with the Waratahs.
Tanerau Latimer
Tanerau Latimer of the Chiefs makes a break during his side's Super Rugby clash with the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
Bundee Aki
Bundee Aki of the Chiefs looks to take the high ball during his side's 29-25 loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Tim Nanai-Williams
Tim Nanai-Williams scores a try for the Chiefs during their round 17 Super Rugby match against the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
Gareth Anscombe
Gareth Anscombe of Chiefs on the attack during his side's round 17 Super Rugby match against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma
Asaeli Tikoirotuma from the Chiefs during his side's 24-16 win over the Hurricanes in Hamilton.
Hadleigh Parkes
Hadleigh Parkes from the Hurricanes celebrates a try during his side's Super Rugby clash against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
Ben Tameifuna
Ben Tameifuna of the Chiefs steps out of the tackles of Ardie Savea (left) and Jeffery Toomaga-Allen of the Hurricanes during his side's round 18 Super Rugby win in Hamilton.
Jeremy Thrush
Jeremy Thrush of the Hurricanes charges into Liam Messam of the Chiefs with the assistance of Ben Franks (left) during the round 18 clash between the two sides at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.
Ardie Savea
Ardie Savea of the Hurricanes is tackled by Chiefs captain Aaron Cruden during the round 18 fixture at Waikato Stadium.
Brodie Retallick
Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick reaches for the ball.
Brodie Retallick
Halfback Tawera Kerr Barlow topples over in the Chiefs' round 19 Super Rugby game against the Blues.
Brodie Retallick
Chiefs first five Aaron Cruden barks orders at his team during their Super Rugby match against the Blues at Eden Park.
Brodie Retallick
Chiefs players Aaron Cruden and Tim Nanai-Williams share their joy at making it to the Super Rugby playoffs after beating the Blues at Eden Park.
Brodie Retallick
Good sportsmanship was on show after the Chiefs beat the Blues at Eden Park with Bundee Aki sharing a moment with Ma'a Nonu.
Bundee Aki
Bundee Aki runs into the Brumbies defence at GIO Stadium.
Pat McCabe
Brumbies second-five Pat McCabe is lifted off his feet in a Chiefs tackle.
Pauliasi Manu
Pauliasi Manu illustrates the Chiefs' disappointment at the final whistle.
Ben Tameifuna
Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna on the charge.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam brings down Brumbies No 10 Christian Lealiifano.
Augustine Pulu
Augustine Pulu looks to break a Brumbies tackle.

Somewhere this decade the Chiefs and Crusaders have swapped identities - a scenario vividly portrayed in Friday night's remarkable Super Rugby season- opener in Christchurch.

Somehow the Chiefs won 18-10 despite being restricted to the rugby equivalent of crumbs from the Crusaders' table. By coach Dave Rennie's count his team had around 32 percent possession, yet they bookended the match with tries that put a serious dent in the fortress that is Christchurch's post- earthquake pop-up stadium.

The red and blacks won all nine matches there last season and dropped only one - against the Hurricanes in 2012 - since making it their new home. That number now doubles after the Chiefs found a way to win through tenacity, tackling and terrific commitment.

These were attributes you used to equate with the Crusaders through their golden period in the late-90s and 2000s. It was they who would soak up huge periods of pressure, and somehow win matches they had no right to. It was they you associated with words like character, gutsiness, defiance. It was they who would clinically kick the goals and wear you down three points at a time.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, used to be the team that would give it a whirl and rattle the cage when things were humming but lacked the core characteristics required to grind out the wins to be a contender.

But over the previous two championship seasons the Chiefs, under their outstanding coaching crew, have morphed into a group with tremendous resolve, unity and structure on defence that means they are always in matches. They also have an uncanny ability to turn under-achievers elsewhere (exhibit A, Robbie Fruean) into world-beaters - another trait once a Crusaders forte.

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They have their days as an attacking force, and have some wonderfully instinctive players, but the one thing they do week in week out is put bodies on the line, play hard for each other and trust their defensive system will repel more than it lets through.

Sure enough on Friday it was the Crusaders who spurned chance after chance, missing five straight first-half penalties (Tyler Bleyendaal will wear out the counselling couch getting over that), two more after the break, and failed to convert a mountain of pressure into even a molehill of points.

"It was incredibly gutsy. We gave away far too many penalties and it gave them field position and opportunities to kick for goal. We played a lot without the pill and lost key players throughout, so it was a hell of an effort from 23 guys," coach Dave Rennie said.

He had no hesitation rating it one of his side's more remarkable victories in recent years, hailing some "pretty miraculous stuff" as wave after wave of red and black attack was repelled. "You couldn't ask for more from a character point of view," he said.

The win did come at a cost with the Chiefs dressing-room resembling a casualty ward after reserve fullback James Lowe snaffled that late intercept and dashed 80 metres to deny - with a little help from Aaron Cruden - the Crusaders a bonus point.

The Chiefs had lost halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow (ankle) before kickoff and saw Mils Muliaina (elbow), Kane Thompson (groin), Brodie Retallick and Ben Afeaki (concussion) and Augustine Pulu (knee) all go down through a gruelling 80 minutes. Third-string flanker Tevita Kolomatangi also lost his battle against cramp.

Muliaina's elbow could be "long term" while further assessment will be needed to determine the extent of the other damage. The Chiefs being the Chiefs (or the Crusaders?) will simply shrug and get on with it.

"There's a lot of belief here, and we've certainly got a group of guys who work hard for each other and are prepared to empty the tank," Rennie said. They will also address their deficiencies - set piece, the breakdown, ball-retention - and round out their game.

The Crusaders, meanwhile, have some work to do. Their forwards were dominant and Rey Lee-Lo had a promising debut in midfield but their attack was too lateral, too indirect and the handling errors came far too frequently.

"We didn't start, we didn't build pressure and we made a lot of mistakes," Blackadder lamented. "We had our chances but didn't execute at the right time and didn't keep the scoreboard ticking over either. We've got a few questions that need to be answered."

The return of Kieran Read this week is timely. A visit to the Blues suddenly looks a little daunting.

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