Super Rugby Pacific: Five takeaways from Chiefs v Crusaders including Damian McKenzie winning the battle of the number 10s

·4-min read
Super Rugby Pacific Damian McKenzie Chiefs SR 2021 - PA.jpg Credit: Alamy
Super Rugby Pacific Damian McKenzie Chiefs SR 2021 - PA.jpg Credit: Alamy

Following the Chiefs’ 34-24 triumph over the Crusaders in Hamilton on Saturday, Planet Rugby picks out five takeaways from the action.

Damian McKenzie wins the battle of the number 10s

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Much has been said and written about the battle between the two sides’ respective All Black fly-halves – the Chiefs‘ Damian McKenzie and Richie Mo’unga of the Crusaders – as both have been in sublime form so far this season, but McKenzie came out on top with another superb performance.

Although Mo’unga had some good moments, McKenzie outshone him as he left his stamp on this match and made a big contribution towards the home side’s victory – their ninth successive one so far this season.

The diminutive playmaker made his mark with a solid goal-kicking shift and was rewarded with a 19-point haul courtesy of five penalties and two conversions, while also shining on attack, defence and with his tactical kicking. He made telling contributions in the build-up to tries for Brodie Retallick and Shaun Stevenson and made eight tackles, one of which saved a certain try from Braydon Ennor in the second half.

High intensity throughout

With this match being contested between two of the heavyweights of Super Rugby Pacific, there was plenty at stake in Hamilton, and both sides deserve credit for making it the entertaining spectacle that it was.

There is a great rivalry between these teams, and this version of it delivered everything we hoped for and expected. With this contest being a battle between the tournament’s table-toppers – the Chiefs – and its defending champions – the Crusaders – the margins for error were tiny throughout the game.

Their intensity levels were similar to a Test, with the teams going at each other hammer and tongs for the full 80 minutes, and the capacity crowd at FMG Stadium in Hamilton got their money’s worth as this was a high-quality and entertaining encounter.

Crusaders’ errors prove costly

The men from Christchurch will be kicking themselves for losing this match as they held an edge for long periods and should have had a comfortable lead midway through the opening half, only for two tries to be disallowed.

After taking a 7-0 lead by the fifth minute, through Tamaiti Williams’ converted try, they first had Dallas McLeod’s effort chalked off before Scott Barrett’s score was also ruled out – due to respective handling errors from Ennor and Dominic Gardiner.

Apart from that, the defending champions also had the bulk of the possession (64 per cent) and territory (56 per cent), but they could not – apart from Williams’ early five-pointer and a penalty try – convert that dominance into points and left Hamilton without any points as they suffered a 10-point defeat.

Strong defence paves the way to victory for Chiefs

With the Crusaders dominating the possession and territorial stakes, it meant that the Chiefs had to get through lots of defensive work, but Clayton McMillan’s troops did not shirk those duties and were rewarded in the end.

The home side were particularly impressive during the opening quarter when the Crusaders spent long periods camped inside their 22, but they tackled their hearts out, and the visitors only had a converted try to show for their efforts at half-time.

That superb defensive display became the theme of the match as the Chiefs players continued to put their bodies on the line in that department. After 80 minutes, the Chiefs had made a whopping 176 tackles to the Crusaders’ 79 but – crucially – missed just 18 to their opponents’ 17.

Tamaiti Williams shows his class

The Crusaders are renowned for churning out New Zealand internationals, and based on his performance in this game, it won’t be long until the young tighthead prop Williams makes the step up to the Test arena.

Williams came to the fore with an outstanding all-round effort during a 63-minute stint for the defending champions. He shone in the execution of his core duties with his scrummaging solid throughout, and the Crusaders seemed to struggle at the set-piece after his departure – along with veteran All Black loosehead prop Joe Moody – during the game’s final quarter.

The 22-year-old also caught the eye with ball in hand, and as he gained 25 metres which included two defenders beaten and a well-taken try for his efforts and seems to have cemented his spot as the Crusaders’ first-choice number three.

READ MORE: WATCH: Shaun Stevenson scores MATCH-WINNING try for Chiefs against Crusaders

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