Super Rugby Pacific: Crusaders end record slump with first victory of season over Chiefs at Christchurch

Finally, the champion Crusaders can breathe a sigh of relief, after taking their first win of the Super Rugby Pacific season, 37-26 over the Chiefs in a rematch of last year's grand finalists at Christchurch.

Their record is 1-5, but at least they're off the bottom of the table - for now.

Already off the worst start by any defending Super Rugby champions, the Christchurch-based side overcame a mounting injury toll that saw captain Mitch Drummond - filling in for All Blacks Scott Barrett and David Havili - scratched before kickoff through illness, replaced by Noah Hotham at halfback and flanker Tom Christie as skipper.

Crusaders celebrate a try against the Chiefs.
Crusaders celebrate a try against the Chiefs. Photo credit: Photosport

They struck first, when Hotham broke over halfway and kicked ahead, with fullback Chay Fihaki outsprinting Chiefs halfback Xavier Roe for the touchdown.

They extended that lead from a penalty and attacking lineout, with centre Levi Aumua brought down just short, but Hotham putting winger Johnny McNicholl over from the ruck.

The Chiefs struck back, when flanker Kaylum Boshier put a dangerous kick through and a long pass from fullback Shaun Stevenson provided a big overlap for winger Emoni Narawa.

Christie sparked the Crusaders' next try, when he won a ruck turnover inside the Chiefs 22, and winger Sevu Reece serviced the backline quickly, with No.8 Cullen Grace diving over in the corner.

Jacomb created a response from the Chiefs, when he took an inside channel to the 22 and found winger Etene Nanai-Seturo, with prop George Dyer taking the direct route to the tryline.

First-five Riley Hohepa slotted a penalty on the stroke of halftime and the home side reached the break 22-12 ahead.

Soon after the restart, hooker George Bell stepped through the midfield defence and had too much speed for Jacomb to score in the corner, as the Crusaders could finally smell victory.  

Boshier was held up over the tryline for the Chiefs, but from the dropout, they built 15 phases on the 22, before the Crusaders defence forced a mistake to ease pressure.

The Chiefs finally cracked that defence, when their international midfield ran off an attacking lineout, with second-five Quinn Tupaea taking the first hitup and centre Anton Lienert-Brown finishing off.

As both sides rang the changes - including both first-fives Jacomb and Hohepa - momentum seemed to be swinging back to the Chiefs, but replacement Josh Ioane threw a looping pass that was picked off by McNicholl for an open run to the line to restore the scoreboard advantage.

The Crusaders added another casualty, when veteran lock Quinten Strange hobbled off, and seconds later, a clever kick from Stevenson put Nanai-Seturo in space, with halfback Cortez Ratima taking the final pass from Lienert-Brown.

Cullen Grace scores a try against the Chiefs.
Cullen Grace scores a try against the Chiefs. Photo credit: Photosport

Eight points up with 10 minutes to play, the champions began to hear footsteps, but Christie won another crucial turnover, as the Chiefs built more pressure. From the ensuing lineout, they won a penalty for a high tackle and Rivez Reihana banked the three points.

From the kickoff, the Chiefs had one last chance to grab a bonus point, but the defence held and veteran halfback Willie Heinz was able to kick dead to end the game.

"It's amazing," reflected Christie. "The boys fronted tonight, 1-23, and really lifted from what we had in the past.

"It just shows, a little bit of adversity, we stuck internal. Long way to go yet, we can acknowledge that, but it was a step in the right direction."

Cruelly, the Crusaders now head into a bye week, with the prospect of having some of their wounded back on the park, when they return against NSW Waratahs - another team to have already beaten them this season - on April 12.

After their second loss of the season, the Chiefs must regroup against Moana Pasifika next Saturday. 

Crusaders 37 (McNicholl 2, Fihaki, Grace & Bell tries; Hohepa 2 conversions & penalty, Reihana penalty & conversion) Chiefs 26 (Narawa, Dyer, Lienert-Brown & Ratima tries; Jacomb & Ioane 2 conversions)

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