Rugby-Chiefs pip champions Crusaders in dramatic Super Rugby opener

  • Rugby
  • Friday, 23 Feb 2024

(Reuters) - The Waikato Chiefs got a measure of revenge for their loss in last year's Super Rugby Pacific final with a 33-29 victory over the Canterbury Crusaders in the opening match of the new season in Hamilton on Friday.

Replacement flyhalf Josh Ioane slotted two penalties in the last five minutes to secure the win after the Crusaders had rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit to take a slender advantage with 12 minutes to go.

Damian McKenzie magic and tries from flanker Kaylum Boshier, scrumhalf Xavier Roe and electric winger Etene Nanai-Seturo had the cow bells ringing at Waikato Stadium as the Chiefs took a 27-10 lead at halftime.

Flyhalf McKenzie limped off just after the break and the Crusaders, chasing an eighth straight Super Rugby title this season, hit back with two tries in three minutes from fullback Chay Fihaki and skipper Scott Barrett to cut the deficit to 27-22.

The visitors, in their first Super Rugby match under Rob Penney after the departure of coach Scott Robertson to the All Blacks, then looked to trademark Crusaders strengths of scrum power and breakdown physicality to slow the pace of the game.

They were denied a try when referee Nick Berry, who made a similar decision recently to deny Scotland win over France in the Six Nations, decided the ball had been held up over the line.

Shortly afterwards, though, Fihaki ran a brilliant line and stormed in for a converted try that put the Crusaders in front for the first time in the match at 29-27.

The momentum was firmly with the Crusaders but Nanai-Seturo came up with a brilliant 50-22 that ultimately gave Ioane the chance to give the Chiefs their first points of the second half and wrest back the lead for good.

"It wasn't going to be easy," said Chiefs captain Luke Jacobson. "Took a little bit to get a bit of momentum back but, once we did, we held onto it and managed to get a couple of three-pointers over."

Barrett said the Crusaders had made too many errors in the first half.

"When they've got a lethal back three like they have, they carve you up," the All Blacks lock said.

"The effort was there ... we'll learn heaps from this and be better going forward."

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

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