THE CHIEFS SEIZED top spot on the Super Rugby ladder from the Crusaders with a 23-13 win over their New Zealand rivals in Suva this morning.
The Chiefs scored two first-half tries to one in front of an ecstatic crowd at the first Super Rugby match ever played in Fiji, with Damien McKenzie adding two conversions and three penalties.
The fullback’s final kick in the 80th minute prevented the Crusaders gaining a consolation bonus point, meaning the Chiefs now lead the ladder by one point on 46.
It could prove a key advantage in the battle to win the ultra-competitive New Zealand conference and gain a crucial home finals berth. Even though the Crusaders are the second-best performing team in the competition, they now drop to fifth behind the four conference leaders.
The Suva showdown was billed as a home game for the Chiefs, who said it acknowledged the contribution Fijian players have made to New Zealand rugby.
The Crusaders team included two Fijian wingers, Nemani Nadolo and Jone Macilai-Tori, while the Chiefs fielded Fiji-born All Blacks centre Seta Tamanivalu. And the sell-out 20,000 crowd went wild every time one of their local heroes touched the ball.
With the competition resuming after a month-long break for international fixtures, the Crusaders looked rusty despite throwing their returning All Blacks into the fray.
They committed 10 handling errors and conceded 18 turnovers in rainy, humid conditions.
A fired-up Nadolo helped them build some early pressure but they failed to break the Chiefs’ line and had to settle for a Richie Mo’unga penalty.
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The Chiefs countered through Tamanivalu, whose perfectly weighted kick put James Lowe into space for the opening try in the 21st minute.
Brad Weber added another 10 minutes later after Damian McKenzie set him up with a scintillating run past four opposition defenders.
Macilai-Tori closed the gap to 17-10 right on half time, capping after a slick attacking move that saw the ball go through 12 pairs of Crusaders’ hands.
The match became bogged down in the second half as the heat took its toll, with only three penalties scored, including McKenzie’s calmly taken effort at the death.
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