Dynamic McKenzie denies Crusaders, Brumbies kick into gear
DAMIAN MCKENZIE slotted home a penalty as time expired to deny the Crusaders a bonus point as the Chiefs secured a 23-13 victory to go top of the standings in Super Rugby, which returned after the international break yesterday.
In a game marked by a succession of handling errors at a rain-soaked ANZ Stadium in the Fijian capital of Suva, the Chiefs emerged victorious in a battle of the top two teams in the New Zealand conference to enhance their title credentials.
The victory moves the Chiefs top of the overall standings on 46 points, one ahead of Crusaders, who drop down into the wild card positions but are still handily placed to secure a playoff berth.
“We’ve been together since November and a lot of hard work comes up to a couple of key games at this part of the season,” Chiefs captain Sam Cane said pitchside. “So to come here and get this result, we’re pretty pleased.”
After a slow start, the Crusaders finally made their early dominance tell when an infringement in a ruck was penalised in front of the posts and Richie Mo’unga slotted home to make it 3- 0 lead after 18 minutes.
The Chiefs came storming back just four minutes later when a slick passing move from a scrum in midfield ended with a try, when Seta Tamanivalu’s clever chip through the Crusaders defence was touched down in the corner by James Lowe. McKenzie, curled in a difficult conversion and then added three more points with another penalty, before the dynamic fullback was instrumental in helping the Chiefs surge into a 17-3 lead after 33 minutes. Picking up the ball on his own 10-metre line, McKenzie stepped through three tacklers before offloading to Brad Weber, who sprinted clear of the last two defenders to score the Chiefs’ second try of the half. McKenzie added the extras but the Crusaders had the final say before the break when Jone Macilai rounded off a sweeping move in the 42nd minute to score in the corner and Mo’unga reduced the arrears to 17-10 with a conversion from the corner.
The start of the second half was littered with a succession of handling errors, until the Chiefs’ forwards punched holes in the defence with a series of powerful runs before the Crusaders were penalised for offside. McKenzie kicked over from in front to make it 20-10 after 57 minutes.
The match drifted as regular replacements broke up play and the teams struggled in the humid conditions until Mo’unga kicked his second penalty on 74 minutes and McKenzie completed the scoring after the Crusaders were penalised for not releasing.
“I don’t think we adapted to the conditions as well as we could have tonight and the Chiefs are such a dangerous side when you turn the ball over,” Crusaders skipper Kieran Read said.
● The Brumbies overcame a slow start to maintain their push for top spot in Super Rugby’s Australian conference with a 43-24 bonus-point victory over the Reds in Canberra.
The Brumbies trailed 10-0 after 16 minutes but Wallaby skipper Stephen Moore scored two tries to lead the home side’s recovery with Ben Alexander, Christian Lealiifano, Tomas Cubelli and Lausii Taliauli also touching down.
Andrew Ready, Duncan Paia’Aua and Taniela Tupou responded for the Reds but the Brumbies took a maximum haul to move to 39 points after 13 matches, five clear of the Waratahs, who will hope to beat the Sunwolves in Tokyo today. – Reuters