Chiefs beat Crusaders in 1st Super Rugby match in Pacific
Fullback Damien McKenzie starred as the Chiefs beat the Crusaders 23-13 to reclaim the lead in Super Rugby's New Zealand conference on Friday as the tournament resumed after a four-week break for June test matches.
In the only other match, the ACT Brumbies moved five points clear of the New South Wales Waratahs atop the Australian conference with a six-try, 43-24 bonus-point win over the Queensland Reds. Wallabies captain Stephen Moore scored two tries for the Brumbies in his first match since Australia's 3-0 test series loss to England.
The Waratahs play the Japan-based Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday.
The first Super Rugby match in the Pacific Islands attracted a capacity crowd of 19,000 in the Fijian capital. Heavy rain leading up to the kickoff gave way to a hot, humid evening which taxed both teams.
McKenzie kicked two conversions and three penalties and had a major hand in one of the Chiefs' two tries, both scored before halftime, which paved the way for an upset win. The Hamilton-based Chiefs endured extreme defensive pressure in the early stages of the match before breaking out to 17-3 with tries to winger James Lowe and scrumhalf Brad Weber.
Local star Jone Macilai scored a try after the halftime siren which threatened a Crusaders' comeback, but the Chiefs kept control through the second half on a rain-soaked field.
At Suva, the only points after halftime came from penalties — two to the Chiefs and one to the Crusaders. McKenzie's last penalty, on the tick of fulltime, deprived the Crusaders of a bonus point which might have left them in first place in the conference.
Instead, the Chiefs hold a one-point lead after 15 of 17 regular-season rounds with only the winner of the conference guaranteed home advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
"It's always got to be a big defensive effort against the Crusaders," Chiefs captain Sam Cane said. "They know how to play footy and they attack, they offload, and they've got dangerous ball-carriers."
The Crusaders attacked relentlessly with more than 75 percent of possession through the opening stages. A turning point came early when the Chiefs heaved the Crusaders' scrum, heavy with All Blacks, off the ball, forcing a critical turnover.
"I don't think we adapted to the conditions as well as what we could have," Crusaders captain Kieran Read said. "We played with the ball a little too much around our own 10-meter line or halfway and the Chiefs were a dangerous side when we turned the ball over."