What can I say about the Crusaders that hasn’t been said ad nauseam? They could possibly be the best Rugby club of all time! Damn, they could be the best sporting club of all time, and here they are again right in the mix at the business end of the season. While the Chiefs don’t live in the same lofty climbs as their opposition, they have had a stellar season, with only one truly great club getting the better of them.
I have just taken a look at the team lists, and I’m salivating. Codie Taylor v Samisoni Taukei’aho, Retallick up against Whitelock, Mo’unga outsmarting McKenzie, Lienert-Brown and Goodhue bashing into each other and Jordan and Stevenson attacking from depth. This is going to be one hell of a match.
Ben O’Keefe blew time on, and the pace of the game was instantly hectic. Things looked even for about five minutes, then the Chiefs gave a penalty and then quickly two more. The last practically in front of the posts and the Crusaders took the easy points. Then, from the kick-off, Anton Lienert-Brown crashed into Dallas McLoud and earned himself a Yellow card. The Chiefs discipline was letting them in the early stages of the game. They gave away six penalties in the first 13 minutes, and the Crusaders lineout was performing perfectly as they marched down the field.
Into the champion minutes, firstly, the Chiefs earned their second Yellow card, and then the Crusaders stepped up, scoring their second try off an obvious forward pass from Goodhue. The try stood, and Mo’unga converted his own try. They had another penalty chance moments before half-time, but it missed just to the right of the posts, leaving the half-time score at 15-10.
Try of the final! I called it early. The Chiefs scored just two minutes into the second half with a beautiful set play down the right side of a centre field scrum. Emoni Narawa used his electric pace to leave the defence in his wake. McKenzie converted to push the Chiefs back in front 17-15. Five minutes later, McKenzie slotted a penalty to stretch the lead to five points.
The Chiefs nearly sealed the game with their next try, but McKenzie wandered into no manes land at the lineout and the try was called back.
The game has definitely swung towards the Chiefs with 65 minutes gone. They are camped in the Crusaders half and doing nearly all the attacking. But the Crusaders are almost never out of a match, and after winning a turn-over deep in their own half, they worked the ball up field and camped in the Chiefs 22 for what seemed like an age. The Chiefs defended valiantly, Losing the captain, Sam Cane, to a yellow card in the process, but they couldn’t keep the Crusaders out and Taylor scored his second try, Mo’unga converted, and the Crusaders were in front 22-20 with six minutes to go!
McKenzie missed a long range penalty with four minutes to go, still 22-20.
Two to go, Chiefs deep in their own half.
One minute to go, and the Chiefs are running the ball out of their own 22. They give a penalty to the Crusaders 20 metres out and to the right of the posts. Mo’unga nails it and the Crusaders are Super Rugby Pacific champions for 2023 winning 25 to 20.
I’m exhausted! What game. Both sides had their chances to win and with 20 minutes to go the Chiefs were running like there was no stopping them and then just one turn over put the ball in the Crusaders hands, and they never looked back.
Having said that, as a Queensland Reds supporter, I know how much yellow cards cruel your momentum. The Chiefs three yellow cards meant they were a player down for more than one third of the match. In the end, it was too much for them to overcome.
Tries: Stevenson, Narawa
Conversions: McKenzie 2
Penalties: McKenzie 2
Tries: Taylor 2, Mo’unga
Conversions: Mo’unga 2
Penalties: Mo’unga 2