Lowe clinches thrilling win
Chiefs utility back James Lowe unleashed a 90-metre intercept try to claim an exciting 18-10 win over the Crusaders for the defending Super Rugby champions at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Friday night.
With both teams suffering in the high humidity, the Crusaders attempted a last throw of the dice only to see wing Nafi Tuitavake's pass to hooker Corey Flynn intercepted by Lowe, who sprinted towards the distant goal-line.
The win rewarded plucky defending by the Chiefs and penalised a below-par Crusaders effort which saw opportunities aplenty lost, including seven missed penalty attempts.
Several times, especially during the first half, the Crusaders let chances go begging and allowed the Chiefs to get away with some untidy line-outs and scrums.
Fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal missed five penalty attempts in the first half and Tom Taylor was introduced as his replacement at half-time with mixed results.
Crusaders old boy Robbie Fruean had given his former team-mates a graphic demonstration of his improved fitness, after recovering from heart surgery, when making the most of a quick throw-in by Chiefs full-back Mils Muliaina.
The ball was shipped across field with wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma making the decisive space before feeding Fruean on the left flank.
He broke three tackles, including Crusaders captain Richie McCaw in his powerful surge to the line to score in the ninth minute.
The Chiefs suffered a blow when losing number eight Kane Thompson to injury in the 18th minute to be replaced by Nick Crosswell.
Crusaders lock Dominic Bird was sin-binned for a ruck infringement in the 36th minute and he was joined after the half-time whistle by Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna
Just before the half-time break, Chiefs fly-half Aaron Cruden landed a penalty goal after he was literally collared in a tackle which was ruled illegal. The kick saw Cruden pass 500 points in Super Rugby and gave the Chiefs an 8-0 half-time lead.
Fruean and Cruden combined superbly a minute into the second period only to see Cruden dragged down by a superb covering tackle by wing Johnny McNicholl.
Another break by Cruden opened up the defences and in a goal-line scramble Crusaders flanker George Whitelock infringed at a breakdown on the goal-line and was sin-binned three minutes into the half. Cruden landed the penalty to take the Chiefs out to an 11-0 lead.
Success finally came for the home side from a brilliant piece of line-out opportunism by lock Sam Whitelock in the 48th minute. He secured the high ball, landed with his back to the opposition, but then backed through the tackle of Michael Fitzgerald and set sail for the line where he stretched out in the tackle to score a superb try.
Taylor made an immediate mark when landing a conversion from wide out to bring the Crusaders back to 11-7 down.
However, in spite of marked territorial advantage he missed two subsequent penalty attempts and McCaw opted for line-out drives instead of kicks for goal until a 73rd-minute chance straight in front of the posts which Taylor converted.
The Chiefs also suffered a blow when lock Brodie Retallick and replacement prop Ben Afeaki were both taken from the field after an horrific head clash between the pair when attempting a tackle.
The Crusaders had managed to get within a point of the visitors, but Lowe then raced away to put the result beyond doubt, with Cruden adding the extras.