'Lackluster' Chiefs fall to clinical Crusaders
HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 02: Chiefs hooker Nathan Harris (C) after another Crusaders try during the round 16 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Crusaders at Waikato Stadium on June 2, 2018 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

The Crusaders have remained in a comfortable position at the top of Super Rugby table after taking care of an lackluster Chiefs side 20-34 tonight in Hamilton. It’s the Crusaders third successive win over the Chiefs, and second straight in convincing fashion this season.

Coming into the game missing several key players, including All Blacks duo Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty, the Crusaders were still good enough to score more tries than the Chiefs – despite having less possession overall.

Captain Matt Todd praised the effort of his side, after the four tries to three win; given the amount of talent missing when speaking to the media post-match.

“We have some massive edge off the bench and it is great to see some of these guys showing their potential when given the chance.

Todd said “the effort tonight in the collision area forced turnovers, and it made our job a lot easier.”

By comparison, the Chiefs weren’t exactly outmatched, but there were times in this match where it felt like a different Chiefs side from last week had turned up to FMG Stadium. Turnovers at the breakdown, handling errors, poor discipline, and a Chiefs team that simply tried to invent too much on the night.

Lackluster Chiefs fall to clinical Crusaders

It was, in all reality, not anything close to the smart rugby that Colin Cooper demands from the Chiefs but post-match, Cooper didn’t put the boot in his men as much as many would say he should’ve.

“They were more clinical than us, we gave away too many penalties and they are too good a team to give those to. We hung in there and had opportunities so there are some definite learnings there.”

There were times that the Crusaders were guilty of throwing some poor passes that missed the intended recipient altogether, and more than a few handling errors saw the visitors lose a lot of possession in the middle of the field throughout the match. But when the passes connected, the Crusaders looked like every bit the punishing side that has them drop just two games in 2018. Clinical when opportunities for tries came, the Crusaders took most chances with both hands, whereas the Chiefs left too many points out on the park.

Compared to Damian McKenzie, Crusaders first five Richie Mo’unga didn’t miss any of his opportunities to convert tries, leaving All Blacks coaches with an interesting decision to make ahead of the French series.

The Chiefs discipline wasn’t up to scratch, and with more possession in comparison, it was a story of one team having more opportunities at the right end of the field and the other finding itself stuck in the middle of the park.

Errors compound by lack of ‘smart play’ by lacklustre Chiefs

The Chiefs tried to invent too much, leading to unforced errors, and some of their decision making must surely be questioned considering the opponent. For example, in the 65th minute, the Chiefs forward packed tried to push its way to the line – despite the Crusaders getting a good initial hit off the lineout and breaking nearly any opportunity for a drive. Some would say, tossing the ball out to the backline and utilizing the skill of Soloman Aliamalo for example, was surely the smarter play.

Perhaps some explanation for the Chiefs making such decisions was due to their missing of Brodie Retallick in the second half. Suffering a slight pectoral injury, Retallick was sidelined and deeply missed at the breakdown and lineouts. When asked if the Chiefs should have risked Retallick; given the importance of the match, Cooper was quick to defend the decision to keep his best player off the field. “We weren’t going to put him on if there is anything medical going on”, Cooper said.

In the end, the Chiefs failed to come away with a bonus point on the losing side of this one however, there was some positive news to be found in the form of Anton Lienert-Brown. He continues to find form, ahead of the French test series.

Chiefs centre Anton Lienert-Brown is tackled during the round 16 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Crusaders at Waikato Stadium on June 2, 2018 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

“he created a lot of opportunities for us and it is going to be good for the All Blacks to have a guy of that quality.”

The Chiefs coach also wasn’t backward in coming forward with his view that Charlie Ngatai should be in the running to be considered a ‘late bolter’ into the All Blacks. That is when you consider the recent injury to Sonny Bill Williams.

Crusaders comfortable atop Super Rugby ladder

The Crusaders have made an home quarterfinal ‘that much closer to being a reality’ with this result. A good outcome but, there is still a few tough games remaining after the International break – and the heat is now on, after this result alters the conference standings.

The Chiefs came into the final week (before the International break) sitting fourth in this hotly contested NZ conference. Now with a resurgent Highlanders; fresh off beating the Hurricanes in this same round, jumping ahead of the Chiefs after this 20-34 win for the Crusaders which puts the Chiefs under serious pressure to even make the quarterfinals.

Not a situation that is too damaging to the finals series, but it is a concern – as some of the team head into All Blacks camp. As such, Chiefs players not required for All Blacks duty will be given ten days off. A rest, before a friendly against the Hurricanes takes place prior to Super Rugby returning proper.

Cooper and the other Chiefs coaching staff will want to review recent matches, and mend the defensive errors that cost so much tonight.

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Meanwhile, during the same International window the Crusaders will play an exciting home fixture against the French Barbarians. After that, they travel to Perth, for a World Series Rugby friendly against the Western Force.

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