The Crusaders held off a late comeback by the Chiefs to win their second straight Aotearoa game with a workmanlike 18-13 victory in atrocious conditions in Christchurch on Sunday.
Two strikes by fullback Will Jordan, set up by the impressive Sevu Reece, on either side of half-time gave the Crusaders the edge in a game that was always going to be tactical and tight because of the conditions the teams were playing in.
But a late surge by the Chiefs brought them within striking range with 10 minutes to go, but the Crusaders defence was too strong at home and in the wet and condemned Warren Gatland’s side to their third straight defeat in the competition.
While the penalty count was significantly less than any other game in the competition, it wasn’t certain if it was the conditions or the referee being lenient after weeks of criticism in New Zealand at the handling of the breakdown laws, which are being strictly enforced for the first time in rugby.
But with the rain belting down and the cold night not helping things, this was never going to be a night of open running rugby and both sides tried desperately with the boot to get an advantage over the other.
The break finally came shortly before halftime when Damian McKenzie misjudged a high kick, leaving it to fall into Reece’s hands with the winger surging down the sideline before offloading to Jordan to finish off the move and give the Crusaders the first significant blow of the match.
Reece was again at it in the second half when he caught the Chiefs napping, picking up a ball that rolled over the sideline to pass inside to a flying Jordan as the defence stood paralysed for the fullback to have an easy canter in behind the posts despite the protests of Aaron Cruden to the match officials.
An extra penalty by Richie Mo’unga made it 18-3 and it looked as if the Crusaders were to cruise home as the game started to head into the last quarter.
But the nuggety Chiefs never gave up, and winger Sean Wainui found space on the blindside as the visitors were camped on the Crusaders line to have enough room to go over and close the gap.
Buoyed by the try, the Chiefs forced another penalty which Cruden put over to bring them within five points of the Crusaders, but it wasn’t to be enough.
Crusaders – tries: Will Jordan (2). Conversion: Richie Mo’unga. Penalties: Mo’unga (2)
Chiefs – try: Sean Wainui. Conversion: Aaron Cruden. Penalties: Cruden (2).