Monday, April 21, 2008

Chiefs vs. Crusaders.

Chiefs end undefeated crusade
Duncan Johnstone,
April 18, 2008 - 7:29PM

The Chiefs announced themselves as serious semifinals contenders in this year's Super 14 as they ended the Crusaders' unbeaten run with a deserved victory in Hamilton on Friday night.
The Chiefs mixed their increasingly potent attack with some resolute defence to claim a three-tries-to-one 18-5 victory in this 10th round encounter.

With just one play-offs appearance in the previous 12 years of Super rugby the Chiefs fans have been suffering more than just a weather drought in their region.
But like the welcomed rain to the district earlier in the week, the Chiefs performance here suggests things are on the up.

This was their fourth consecutive win now as their campaign gathers serious momentum. They have jumped momentarily up to third and they look comfortable in those heady surroundings.

They host the Reds next weekend and then head to South Africa for three matches there to try to seal the deal. For a city hosting the V8 extravaganza this weekend, things are off to a roaring start as the capacity crowd of 25,000 loved every minute of this victory. Any thoughts that the Chiefs effectiveness may have been blunted by last week's bye quickly evaporated.

The simply picked up where they had left off in Canberra, with a hungry pack and backline that was putting together some crisp passing to constantly test the Crusaders. Big Chiefs loose forwards Sione Lauaki and Liam Messam were fired up. Playmaker Stephen Donald, operating off some swift work from halfback Brendon Leonard persistently sparked the Chiefs attacks.

And the Chiefs showed some control as well as their eagerness to counter-attack. Their kicking game was clever and accurate as they looked to get into the right areas of the park to really apply some pressure to the visitors. Among all this was some good old fashioned defensive steel that helped keep the Crusaders scoreless for 46 minutes.

The Crusaders, struggling for composure in their backline particularly, had nothing to show for their first half endeavours where they trailed 0-18 at the break. They say they are a better second half team but despite having a ton of possession all they could come up with this week was one second-half try. Their proud run of eight wins is now at an end.

They managed to deny the Chiefs any second-half points but they simply couldn't haul in the home side who had too much hustle and bustle on the night.

There was plenty of feeling in this match as you'd expect, especially after the Chiefs had produced a similarly impressive performance to beat the Crusaders last year in Christchurch.
It as fair to say that on the night the Chiefs had the better of the many personal battles that made up this clash.

The Chiefs took advantage of Stephen Brett putting the kickoff into touch by attacking from the resulting scrum and nearly scoring. The Crusaders, under pressure conceded a penalty close to their posts and Stephen Donald landed the points.

The Crusaders had a good spell pressing for points but got nothing and the Chiefs struck back when they got down the attacking end. Sione Lauaki gave them some good go-forward ball and as they worked it left Donald got in two clever passes to eventually free Sitiveni Sivivatu for the try.

The Crusaders continued to get enough ball and territory but couldn't turn either into points.
Meanwhile just about every time the Chiefs got on attack they struck. Some Donald genius with a kick and regather allowed him to slip a pass to charging prop Simms Davison who fended off Caleb Ralph and burst 20m to the posts for a thrilling try on the half hour that gave the home side a 15-nil lead.

There was still time for Donald to confidently land a long range penalty to extend that lead at halftime. The Crusaders, importantly for them, struck first in the second half when they turned over ball through some sloppy work at the back of a Chiefs ruck and Stephen Brett picked it up and took over to send Andy Ellis in for the try.

The Crusaders kept on attacking and the Chiefs kept on tackling. The visitors' hopes of salvaging something from this took a severe blow when replacement loose forward Nasi Manu failed to force the ball when diving over the line.

From there the Chiefs managed to hold on. They will be in a confident mood as they get set to host the Reds while the Crusaders head home knowing they will have to improve next week when their old rivals the Blues come to Christchurch on Friday night.

CHIEFS 18 (Sitiveni Sivivatu, Simms Davison tries; Stephen Donald 2 pen con) bt CRUSADERS 5 (Andrew Ellis try) at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton. Referee: Craig Joubert (RSA).


The Crusaders unbeaten run in the 2008 Rebel Sport Super 14 is over. In front of a sell out crowd of 25,000, the Crusaders have fallen 18-5 to a passionate Chiefs side which out-muscled their rivals in the critical contact area.

That allowed the home side to get on the front foot in a hotly contested match which provided just three tries; two to the Chiefs, and one to the Crusaders. Both of the Chiefs tries were scored in the first half, blowing the game open after the first 10 minutes of play had yielded just a penalty goal scoring opportunity apiece.

The Chiefs took theirs, with first-five-eighths Stephen Donald opening the scoring in just the second minute, while the Crusaders missed out when Stephen Brett couldn’t convert from a handy angle in the eighth minute.

While the game maintained a fast pace throughout, the Chiefs gained an element of luck in their opening try, which was supplied by All Black winger Sitiveni Sivivatu. The try came after the ball spewed free on the blindside from a ruck. It could have gone anywhere, but found its way into Chiefs’ hands, for Donald to draw in the two remaining defenders, prior to setting up Sivivatu for an easy run to the goal-line.
This represented the third year in a row that Sivivatu had hurt the Crusaders by scoring a try in this game: last year, he got two. Donald couldn’t convert, but the Chiefs continued to enjoy the better of the game, being aided by a Crusaders outfit that was unusually plagued by error.

“It was frustration in the main,” Crusaders skipper Richard McCaw explained afterwards. "Sometimes, when things aren’t going well, you can just try too hard and make it worse. That’s what we did tonight. We just got a bit too individual in our focus and approach under pressure. They gained the momentum in the game by being physical in the contact area, and we just couldn’t get back into it.”

The level of the Crusaders’ error-rate was such that not even the sin-binning of lock Toby Lynn in the 26th minute could change the balance of the game. Instead, while a man down, the Chiefs went further ahead on 30 minutes, with Donald again the provider.

The talented but occasionally erratic Chiefs first-five-eighths was the star man when his side rocked the Crusaders 30-24 at the now AMI Stadium last year, and his contribution proved to be telling again, when he popped a kick in behind the defence after 30 minutes.

Not only was Donald swift enough to follow up and re-gather, he also had the vision to successfully link with his support – in this case, Chiefs tighthead prop Ben Castle – who roared up the centre of the field and over the goal-line, for what was a memorable try.

Donald fittingly converted to take the Chiefs out to a 15-0 advantage, which he then extended to 18-0 with his second penalty goal of the night, just before halftime. The fact that the Chiefs had made far more of their opportunities in the opening half than had the Crusaders was highlighted by the missed tackle statistics for the period: the Chiefs closed the opening forty having missed with more tackles than the Crusaders had, but still lead 18-zip on the scoreboard.

The resumption of play offered the Crusaders hope that the game could be turned around, especially when halfback Andrew Ellis claimed his fifth try of the 13th Crusade, five minutes in.
The Ellis try came after the Crusaders had turned the ball over, but had then reacted quickly forcing the Chiefs into error trying to clear the ball.

As Chiefs halfback Brendan Leonard struggled to claim the ball, Brett pounced to fly kick the ball through and gather it, before linking with Ellis who strode clear to score. The points provided the possibility of an escape, but the subsequent required blows were not forthcoming.
Instead, the Chiefs continued to show their willingness in the contact area, slowing down the Crusaders’ ball flow, which allowed their defensive line to then swarm all over the static Crusaders attack.

While the Chiefs never really threatened to advance their own scoring tally after the break, they rarely appeared to be on the back foot either, save for one superb length of the field break out which nearly resulted in a try for the 19-year-old ‘super’ sub Nasi Manu. Manu appeared to ground the ball successfully to complete the attacking raid, but the subsequent television replays provided enough doubt for the television match official to rule no try. It was that kind of night… the breaks went the Chiefs way, but they played very well, and generally made their own luck.

“It was a tough experience for some of our younger players, and for our group as a whole, but we’ll all be better for it,” was Crusaders coach Robbie Deans’ succinct post-match summation.
“We’d been traveling along fairly well, but have hit a bit of a bump against a committed and determined opposition who got stuck in and earned everything they achieved. The character test for our group now, both as individuals, and as a team, is to absorb the lessons, work even harder and, most importantly, bounce back.”

Tonight’s loss won’t knock the Crusaders off their perch at the top of the Super rugby championship table regardless as to how the other results over the weekend transpire. It has, however, terminated the current winning sequence at eight. This run has been bettered by the side only three times previously in the franchise’s history: 13 in 2002, 9 in 1998, and 9 in 2006.

The Crusaders wound up winning the Super rugby title on all three of those previous occasions.
Next up for the Crusaders is a Friday night home tie against the Blues at AMI Stadium on ANZAC Day, April 25. All Black fullback Leon MacDonald should be fit to play in that match after missing the last two games due to his thigh muscle tear.

Centre Casey Laulala is now in doubt after he sustained a knock to the head late in tonight’s match, and had to be assisted from the field in the medical cab. The plus side on the player injury front was that both Brett and lock Ross Filipo, who came off the bench in the second half to feature in his first representative match since August 11 last year, came through their respective assignments showing no ill-affects.

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