Crusaders stay clear at the top
SUPER RUGBY REPORT: The Crusaders made it 12 wins from 12 outings with a thrilling 31-24 win over the Chiefs in Suva on Friday.
Despite outscoring the Crusaders by four tries to three, the Chiefs were left clutching only a losing bonus point.
The accurate boot of Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo'unga proved to be the difference - as his four penalties and two conversions trumped the errant boot of Chiefs counterpart Aaron Cruden, who succeeded with only two of his five attempts at goal.
The result means the Crusaders (54 points) have opened an eight-point gap at the top of the standings - ahead of South Africa's Lions (46) and compatriots the Chiefs (43).
Captain Sam Whitelock said it was pleasing to see his backline take control after the forwards delivered a victory against the Hurricanes last week.
"The whole year we've had the balance right between forwards and backs," he said.
"Either unit can step up when they need to, that's awesome as a captain."
There was a concern for All Blacks selectors when Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty left the field with possible concussion, adding to a growing injury list ahead of the British and Irish Lions series.
The fixture was nominally a Chiefs home game but they moved it to Fiji to recognise the contribution Pacific islanders make to New Zealand rugby.
The meeting between New Zealand's top-performing sides lived up to expectations as the lead changed four times before the Crusaders took control in the second half.
The Chiefs looks set for an upset win with a 17-13 lead at the break but conceded too many penalties as the Crusaders remained disciplined.
Cruden set up the opening try, accelerating into space, then sending a floating pass to set up Tim Nanai-Williams on the wing.
He then followed up with a kick from deep within his own half that bounced perfectly for the onrushing James Lowe.
The Crusaders hit back with a Heiden Bedwell-Curtis try, but the Chiefs scored another when Kane Hames managed to ground the ball through a tangle of bodies.
The Crusaders began the second half with a magnificent David Havili try after Richie Mo'unga intercepted a Cruden kick and sparked an attack that left the Chiefs defenders grasping at air.
Ben Funnell consolidated the lead off the back of a jinking Mo'unga run, only for Cruden to claw one back for the Chiefs after dodging past three defenders.
The Chiefs had a late chance at a line-out but squandered it by knocking on the ball.
Man of the match: Damian McKenzie is always good value, Sam Cane was a hard worker and Brodie Retallick may well have shaded his battle with All Black teammate Sam Whitelock. JordanTaugua epitomised the hard work that gave the Crusaders the base from which to launch their raids from. However, the biggest influence on the game and our man of the match was Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo'unga.
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Nanai-Williams, Lowe, Hames, Cruden
Cons: Cruden, McKenzie
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Bedwell-Curtis, Havili, Funnell
Cons: Mo'unga 2
Pens: Mo'unga 4
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Sam McNicol, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Peter Samu, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Vernon Fredericks, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill, Paul Williams
TMO: Shane McDermot