Super Rugby Aotearoa: Crusaders consolidate competition lead with victory over Chiefs

Celebrating Sam Whitelock's 150th game for his beloved franchise, the Crusaders have overpowered the Chiefs down the stretch 32-19 to consolidate their dominance of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Leading just 20-19 midway through the second half, the three-time defending Super Rugby champions benefited from a favourable referee call to award Sevu Reece a try, after lock Quentin Strange seemed to knock on.

The Crusaders avoided controversy, when replacement winger Leicester Fainga'anuku crossed seven minutes later to put the outcome beyond dispute, but Chief coach Warren Gatland will doubtless wonder when his side will catch a break from officials. 

The visitors seemed in control early, when No.8 Tom Sanders and fullback Will Jordan scored inside the opening 13 minutes for a 12-0 lead.

Flanker Lachlan Boshier pulled one back for the Chiefs, but with halftime approaching, they were stung, when referee Ben O'Keeffe ruled wing Shaun Stevenson had deliberately knocked on to prevent a Crusaders overlap and issued a yellow card.

From the penalty, Richie Mo'unga kicked to the corner and Codie Taylor followed his forward pack over the line to score, extending the advantage to 17-10 at the break. 

As good as he was about the field, Mo'unga had a forgettable night from the kicking tee, which kept the Chiefs in the contest for the first hour. McKenzie slotted three penalties after halftime, while Mo'unga managed one, before the game's most controversial moment.

After several phases, Jordan found a half-gap and offloaded to Strange in support. The gangly lock seemed to bobble the ball, before spilling it and although it landed behind him, the ball had clearly travelled forward from the spot it was lost.

O'Keeffe saw it differently, awarding the try to Reece, who had gathered the spilled ball to touch down, and the Crusaders were eight points clear.

Fainga'anuku's try set the seal on victory and the southerners now sit seven points clear of the Blues, who visit the Highlanders on Sunday.

Leicester Fainga'anuku scores for the Crusaders
Leicester Fainga'anuku scores for the Crusaders. Photo credit: Photosport

The Chiefs were unable to reward new centurion Aaron Cruden with a win in possibly his last home game for the franchise and now have one chance to break their eight-game losing streak, when they visit the Hurricanes next week.

Crusaders 32 (Sanders, Jordan, Taylor, Fainga'anuku & Reece tries; Mo'unga 2 conversions & penalty) Chiefs 19 (Boshier try, McKenzie conversion & 4 penalties)

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Super Rugby Aotearoa: Crusaders consolidate competition lead with victory over Chiefs