The Crusaders slumped to back-to-back defeats in the Super Rugby competition on Friday night, beaten by a committed Chiefs side 24-19 in Napier.
The Crusaders, bristling with All Blacks, blew a series of chances in drizzly conditions and failed to impose themselves on a Waikato team enjoying the momentum of a comprehensive win over the Blues last week.
The Crusaders are the most successful side in Super Rugby, with seven championships, but have been far from convincing this year and the result leaves them with only one win from three games.
“In patches we put it together but too many penalties really killed us,” Crusaders captain Kieran Read said, promising a swift improvement.
“There’s a long way to go in this competition, we’ll definitely be working on a few things.”
The Chiefs’ youthful pack remained undaunted by their seasoned opponents and recorded a two-try-to-one victory.
Defence dominated the opening stages as Aaron Cruden kicked a penalty in the first minute for the Chiefs and Tyler Bleyendaal missing a chance to level after five minutes but nailing a second attempt.
Cruden then squandered two penalty opportunities but the Chiefs remained dominant, their scrum not intimidated by the Crusaders’ All Blacks-studded pack.
Fly-half Cruden restored the Chiefs’ lead after Israel Dagg was penalised for a shoulder charge, before teammate Liam Messam broke through for the first try of the match.
The ball passed through seven pairs of hands after a line-out for Messam to score, Cruden easily converting.
Former league star Sonny Bill Williams, who defected from the Crusaders in the off-season, conceded a needless penalty to his former team to narrow the gap but the Chiefs went into half-time up 16-6.
The Crusaders piled on the pressure after the break and were rewarded when Robbie Fruean latched onto a Kieran Read offload for a try, with Bleyendaal successfully converting.
Sona Taumalolo hit back with second try for the Chiefs, powering over the line past a scrambling Crusaders defence, but the Christchurch-based team kept in touch two penalties to make it 21-19.
With four minutes to play, Cruden kicked another penalty and the Chiefs defence did enough to secure the win.