WELLINGTON – A late Luke Romano try ensured the table-topping Crusaders downed the Chiefs 34-20 in their Super Rugby clash on Saturday.
It was a double celebration for the Crusaders as they strengthened their lead in the competition with their 10th consecutive win, and marked the record 200th appearance and 199th Super game by long-serving prop Wyatt Crockett.
For the Crusaders it was an anxious final 30 minutes after Luke Jacobson’s second try saw the Chiefs close to 27-20 at the 50-minute mark.
But the champions’ defence held to deny the Chiefs a potentially match-levelling try and with two minutes remaining Romano drove over to put the result beyond doubt and extend the Crusaders competition lead to nine points over the Hurricanes.
The Crusaders, already without injured Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty, were forced into a late reshuffle when Jack Goodhue and Jordan Taufua were ruled out.
Despite the disruptions they dominated the opening 20 minutes and jumped to a 10-3 lead from a converted try to Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, while All Black flyhalf rivals Richie Mo’unga and Damian McKenzie traded penalties.
“All the boys that came in, there were late changes, and credit to those boys. They’ve worked hard back home and when they got the opportunity they took it,” captain Matt Todd said while crediting the Crusaders lineout as a key difference.
“We put a lot of work into that during the week and it’s pleasing when we can get points out of it.”
Jitters hit the Crusaders midway through the first half allowing the Chiefs to strike back with tries in quick succession to Sean Wainui and Jacobson.
That forced the Crusaders to resort to their trump card, a dominant forward pack, which allowed them to control the remainder of the half.
McKenzie, unable to produce the same influence as Mo’unga, could not convert the Chiefs’ tries while the Crusaders pivot converted a try by Matt Todd and landed a second penalty to lead 20-13 at the turn.
George Bridge pushed the lead out to 27-13 soon after the resumption before Jacobson’s second set up the tense finish.