By EVAN PEGDEN - Waikato Times
Beaten in the set pieces, beaten around the fringes – beaten in the game.
It's a simple summary but a true one of the Chiefs as they suffered their second Super 14 home loss in a row, going down 26-19 to the seven-time champion Crusaders in front of 17,800 fans at Waikato Stadium last night.
This was a stunning game, particularly in the first half before the rain squalls swept in to make attacking rugby difficult in the second half.
But the Crusaders did all the little things that much better and more efficiently than the Chiefs, starting with a dominant scrum, and that made the difference for them in a game in which they scored two tries to the home team's one.
The visitors ruled the air, dominating the high ball and controlling it better in the contact area where the Chiefs tended to lose the ball a lot.
"It was just one of those arm wrestles that came down to a few small details," Chiefs coach Ian Foster said.
"They won the set-piece battle and they won around the fringes, but we weren't far away so I'm disappointed with the loss but it was not a bad performance.
The Crusaders had played the percentages better in a tight game and that gave them the small measure of control they needed, he said.
"We probably didn't do everything perfect in that second half.
"There were just a couple of little handling errors and a couple of kick receipts which we didn't catch on the full that probably made the difference in us not being able to put them under pressure."
Outside of that the crowd were also treated to some fine goal-kicking from both All Blacks first five-eighths – Dan Carter (6/8) converting both tries and adding four penalty goals for the Crusaders and Stephen Donald (5/6) converting the Chiefs' only try and also adding four penalty goals.
For Carter that meant overtaking Andrew Mehrtens as New Zealand's leading Super rugby points scoring and he now sits just four points shy of 1000 points. Donald took his season tally to 80.
The pace of the game in the first half was breathtaking with the Crusaders, with the wind behind them, playing at a level with ball in hand that threatened to rip control well away from the home side.
The visitors kept kicking to a surprising minimum and moved the ball with width at every opportunity while also attacking the blind side repeatedly at pace to try and outflank the Chiefs' defence.
The results were two sensational tries to fill-in halfback Kahn Fotuali'i – one in the eighth minute as the Crusaders moved the ball to both sides of the field and the Chiefs were caught a man down in defence with flanker Liam Messam down with a painful hip injury that saw him replaced.
That converted try put the visitors in front 10-6 after an early exchange of penalty goals and with more kicks taking it to 13-9, it was Fotuali'i who was on hand again on the end of more great support play to take the final pass from fullback Jared Payne for his second touchdown in the 28th minute after a turnover from Chiefs' counterattack.
Dan Carter's conversion took it to 20-9 and the game seemed about to be snatched well beyond the Chiefs' grasp with the Crusaders' support play from deep and ability to make the gain line deadly, while young winger Zac Guildford was a constant menace on attack.
But four minutes later back came the Chiefs with a stunning try of their own, initiated by a blockbusting burst up the middle from No8 Colin Bourke and then a rapid backline attack out to the right, Donald spotting a gap angling right and centre Richard Kahui steaming onto a pop pass at a perfectly straight angle.
Unfortunately when it came the Chiefs' turn to have the wind at their backs, the rain swept in and they found themselves struggling to get out of their own half with the Richie McCaw-led Crusaders monopolising possession with impressive continuity and efficiency.
The Chiefs' defence was sorely tested and while it emerged with flying colours with the only scoring a penalty apiece – Donald's kick from wide out on the halfway line a standout in giving his team the consolation bonus point – it was never going to be enough to win the game.