Super Rugby Pacific: Five takeaways from Crusaders v Chiefs as the visitors UPSET the champions in Christchurch

Crusaders v Chiefs: Brodie Retallick on the charge in Super Rugby Pacific Credit: Alamy
Crusaders v Chiefs: Brodie Retallick on the charge in Super Rugby Pacific Credit: Alamy

Following the Chiefs’ stunning 31-10 win over the Crusaders in Christchurch in the opening game of the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific, here’s our takeaways from the massive upset.

First game of the season

During the first half in particular, it was clear this was the first game of the season for both teams, with small errors such as handling, positioning and tackle technique dominating the early exchanges. Richie Mo’unga and Damian McKenzie were rusty off the tee, and there was a lot of back-and-forth kicking in the first 40.

However, the game came to life in the second period as the Chiefs, in particular, found a rhythm and made the most of that to orchestrate a stunning upset. The Crusaders had their moments, but a yellow card for Ethan Blackadder came at a costly time.

The second half was a joy to watch, and the standard of play will only improve as the season develops.

Damian McKenzie ignites Chiefs backline as expected

The return of the skilful playmaker McKenzie would always be a factor for the Chiefs this season, and he did not disappoint. The fly-half injected energy on the ball throughout the game, looking to keep defenders honest.

He kicked well out of hand in the first half and kept his side in the right areas as much as he could as both teams dusted the cobwebs. However, in the second half, the flair-filled star began to pull the strings integrating some of the other exciting stars in the backline, such as Shaun Stevenson, who had an outstanding game, and Alex Nankivell looks to be building on a good 2022 season.

What will be of concern to the rest of the competition is how electric the backline was when Josh Ioane came on at fly-half and McKenzie went to full-back. Suddenly the Chiefs had the defending champions reeling on defence and emphatically put them away in Christchurch.

McKenzie is the catalyst for the Chiefs, and the venomous second half will have laid down a solid marker for other teams to match.

Chiefs pack is one to watch

Like everything else in the game, the Chiefs pack took a while to get into the game, but when they did, they looked outstanding. Samisoni Taukei’aho continues to underline his reputation as a world-class hooker with 14 carries and 12 tackles in Christchurch.

The second-row pairing of Brodie Retallick and Tupou Vaa’i is impressively balanced, as the duo were outstanding in broken play and solid enough in the lineout. The loose trio is also brilliant, with Pita Gus Sowakula looking like he has a bone to pick after missing out on the last round of All Blacks selection. Sam Cane and Luke Jacobson were both committed throughout and will only improve as the season goes on.

Scrummaging is a slight concern, but the work done to make up for it by this mobile pack was outstanding. This unit will only grow this season.

Concerning start for the Crusaders

Scott Roberston’s side very rarely loses in Christchurch, let alone by a whopping 21 points. In truth, the Crusaders did not start the game as well as the Chiefs but still managed to squeeze a 10-7 lead at the break.

It seemed as though they would find their feet after the break and, in typical Crusaders fashion, find a way to win even when the side did not play well. However, it was not to be, and a quick look at the match statistics highlights exactly where it went wrong.

The Crusaders made 189 tackles but missed a ridiculous 49 in the opener in Christchurch. Missing that many tackles simply destroys any opportunity to grow tangibly into the game.

It is worrying, but the men from Christchurch are hugely impressive, and they will be back to their best. Robertson will be looking for solutions as soon as possible before they lose their grip at the top of the Super Rugby hierarchy.

Law innovations look effective at first glance

Super Rugby Pacific integrated several new law innovations this season, including time limits on completing scrums and lineouts, which worked well in Christchurch.

There was notably less ball out of play time at the lineout with few huddles before the throw-in and a lot more continuity in the flow of the game.

A spinoff of more ball in play is elevated fatigue for the players, and it showed. Of course, it is the first game of the season, but the added strain on the players opened up the game more in the second period and made for an exciting finish.

Another interesting innovation was a TMO review on a yellow card where in an instance where a player is sin binned, the TMO has eight minutes to review the incident and decide whether it should be upgraded to a red card.

It is still early stages, but for the most part, the changes added value to the game.

READ MORE: Super Rugby Pacific: Taniela Tupou to swap Reds for Melbourne Rebels

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