Super Rugby: Gritty Win For Chiefs In Season Opener
by Brendan Bradford –
Lying motionless on the turf at AMI Stadium in Christchurch, Chiefs openside flanker Tevita Koloamatangi summed up the agony of his side.
Having been replaced earlier in the match, Koloamatangi returned when Brodie Retallick and Ben Afeaki failed concussion tests and were forced from the game midway through the second half. The 25-year-old back-rower lasted less than 10 minutes before debilitating cramps left him prostrate on the ten meter line with 15-minutes to play and his team battling to defend an 11-7 lead.
In his first game on New Zealand soil since the 2011 World Cup, Mils Muliaina had already left the field with a shoulder complaint and halfback Augustine Pulu was on one leg following a first half collision.
By the time Koloamatangi was helped from the pitch, big Ben Tameifuna had returned and replacement hooker Nathan Harris was packing a scrum at flanker.
On the wrong side of the referee’s whistle, the Chiefs conceded three points as the home-side set up camp inside their 22. Only a rugged defensive effort – which has become as synonymous with the two-time defending champions as their attacking flair – held the Crusaders at bay before debutant James Lowe scored an intercept try in the 80th minute to seal a courageous 18-10 first-up victory.
The Crusaders had 64% possession and 98 rucks and mauls to the Chiefs’ 40, but made 13 handling errors in a rusty early season display that will be seen as the one that got away. Starting fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal missed five first-half penalties before being pulled for Tom Taylor at the break. Assuming the kicking duties, Taylor fared little better, slotting a conversion and missing two three-pointers before landing an easy attempt to narrow the gap in the closing stages.
Standouts for the Chiefs were fly-half Aaron Cruden, whose defence impressed as much as his attack, and new recruit Robbie Fruean who wreaked havoc in midfield against his old side. It was the stocky centre’s barnstorming first half run down the left touchline in which he put a Jonah Lomu-like bump on Bleyendaal and brushed off Richie McCaw that opened the scoring for the Chiefs. Cruden added a penalty later in the half for an 8-0 lead at the break and added a second shortly after the resumption.
Sam Whitelock finished a 15-meter run for a Crusaders five-pointer early in the second half to narrow the gap to 11-7, but the defending champions showed true grit to hold on for the 18-10 win and deny the Crusaders a bonus point.
Chiefs 18 (Fruean, Lowe tries; Cruden 2 pen, con) Crusaders 10 (S Whitelock try; Taylor con, pen)