Chiefs stun Crusaders to take Super Rugby opener

Fri, Feb 24, 2023, 8:21 AM
by AAP
The Chiefs have made a statement with a 31-10 win over the Crusaders. Photo: Getty Images
The Chiefs have made a statement with a 31-10 win over the Crusaders. Photo: Getty Images

The Chiefs rallied from 10-0 down after 20 minutes to beat the defending champion Crusaders 31-10 Friday and pull off the first upset of the Super Rugby Pacific season in the opening match.

Center David Havili scored the first try of the season in the 20th minute and the conversion which followed a penalty by Richie Mo’unga gave the Crusaders a 10-0 lead in front of a large home crowd.

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The Chiefs were able to stay in a mostly scrappy match and had cut the lead to 10-7 at halftime with a try to lock Brodie Retallick.

Second-half tries to captain Sam Cane, center Alex Nankivell and replacement Cortez Ratima put the Chiefs ahead 31-10 after 70 minutes while the Crusaders mostly were locked in their own half or contained by the Chiefs’ defense.

New rules applied this season to speed up the game produced a faster game, though often at the expense of structure and the Chiefs probably adapted more quickly than the Crusaders.

Pressure to use the ball quickly from rucks probably helped the more spontaneous Chiefs more than the Crusaders. The Christchurch-based Crusaders were forced to make a large number of tackles in the second half and missed too many as they were outscored 24-0.

“I thought we hung in there really well in the first half when we put ourselves under a bit of pressure,” Cane said. “I thought in the second half we got a lot of that right.

“A lot of belief in this team. We feel like we’ve been building for a couple of years so it’s a good start to our season.”

The Crusaders were on top early, winning the set piece battle and Havili scored when Cane was in the sin-bin for a professional foul.

Retallick scored in the 33rd minute after a break by Shaun Stevenson set up an attacking lineout. Scrumhalf Brad Weber scooted through a gap and Retallick was on hand as he was throughout the match.

The Chiefs grabbed the lead in the 49th minute with Cane’s try and made the lead 21-10 when Nankivell dived over in the 60th minute.

Ratima made an outstanding break from a scrum to score under the posts when the Crusaders were down to 14 men and flyhalf Damian McKenzie made all of his kicks to accentuate the Chiefs’ advantage.