April 29, 2023
Damian McKenzie has boosted his claim to a place in New Zealand's World Cup squad by leading the Chiefs to a 34-24 win over the defending Super Rugby Pacific champion Crusaders.
McKenzie kicked five penalties among 19 points for the Chiefs, who extended their winning start to the campaign to nine matches and beat the Crusaders for the second time this season.
The Chiefs enjoyed a 9-7 lead at halftime in Hamilton on Saturday but the Crusaders were up 24-22 when McKenzie engineered a try for fullback Shaun Stevenson that put the Chiefs ahead for the final time.
"The Crusaders have one of the better scrums in the competition so credit to the boys up front, they've been putting in a lot of work this season," Chiefs captain Sam Cane said.
"Considering we didn't have too much possession in that first half, to keep the scoreboard ticking over was a massive part of us getting the job done tonight."
The Crusaders had surpluses of territory and possession in the first half but had only a single try to show for it, to prop Tamaiti Williams after only five minutes. The Chiefs managed to get out of their half on a few occasions and each time McKenzie kicked a penalty to eventually earn their halftime lead.
McKenzie helped set up a try for lock Brodie Retallick in the 45th minute which stretched the lead to 19-7. He forced his hands through a tackle and off-loaded to Stevenson who passed inside for Retallick to score.
The Crusaders fought back with a penalty try from a collapsed maul and a contentious try to Fergus Burke who received an infield pass from a teammate who seemed in touch.
McKenzie kicked a penalty to give the Chiefs a 22-21 lead, then his opposite Richie Mo'unga landed a goal which put the Crusaders ahead 24-21.
McKenzie dashed through a hole in the Crusaders' backline to create Stevenson's try and cap a night on which he was clearly the dominant figure.
The Chiefs' success followed their 31-10 win over the Crusaders in the tournament's opening round.
Earlier in the day, the Blues took 25 minutes to get on the scoreboard but went on to build a comfortable 30-14 win over the Fijian Drua in Lautoka, Fiji.
The Blues' third victory in a row lifted them into fourth place, two points ahead of the Crusaders who now have a 6-3 record. The Chiefs' 9-0 record is their best ever and hasn't been achieved since the Crusaders last managed the same winning streak.
CHIEFS 34 (TRIES: Retallick, Stevenson, Thompson PENS: McKenzie 5/6 CONS: McKenzie 2/3)
CRUSADERS 25 (TRIES: Williams, Burke PENS: Mo'unga 1/3 CONS: Mo'unga 2/2)
CHIEFS (1-15): Aidan Ross, Samisoni Taukei'aho, George Dyer, Brodie Retallick, Tupou Vaa'i, Samipeni Finau, Sam Cane (co-c), Luke Jacobson, Brad Weber, Damian McKenzie, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Rameka Poihipi, Daniel Rona, Emoni Narawa, Shaun Stevenson
RESERVES: Tyrone Thompson, Ollie Norris, John Ryan, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Pita Gus Sowakula, Cortez Ratima, Bryn Gatland, Lalomilo Lalomilo
CRUSADERS (1-15): Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Tamaiti Williams, Scott Barrett (c), Sam Whitelock, Dom Gardiner, Tom Christie, Cullen Grace, Mitchell Drummond, Richie Mo'unga, Leicester Fainga'anuku, David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Dallas McLeod, Fergus Burke
RESERVES: Brodie McAlister, Finlay Brewis, Oliver Jager, Quinten Strange, Christian Lio-Willie, Willi Heinz, Jack Goodhue, Macca Springer
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: Dan Waenga, Mike Winter