Fly halves and a full back on fire in Fijian epic

Matt Porter Roar Guru

By Matt Porter, Matt Porter is a Roar Guru

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46 Have your say

    Goodness me, that heavyweight bout between the Crusaders and Chiefs was a game of almost absurd quality last night.

    Where to start? The sensational back play. The blistering line speed. The brutal collisions. The wonderfully raucous Suva crowd. The no-nonsense refereeing. The lead constantly changing hands. The ambition. The desire. The skills. The speed. Scotty Stevenson’s halftime Fijian fashion show.

    It bloody well had it all – including a monstrous hit by Crusaders blindside Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, albeit on his own fullback.

    That the Crusaders got the points to preserve their remarkable unbeaten run was almost shaded by the contest. Almost.

    Are there spots up for grabs against the touring Lions or something? Virtually everyone on the park put their hand up, except maybe Crusaders half back Bryn Hall and Chiefs replacement hooker Hika Elliot – the latter’s two duffed lineout throws at the death cost his team any chance of an emphatic final say.

    This was a see-saw on a roller coaster, as hectic as that sounds. I could bang on about virtually every individual performance, but you’d end up shrieking at the surfeit of superlatives, so I’m going to zone in on just three.

    Firstly, Aaron Cruden. What a blinder from the little All Black pivot, and what a reminder that he is anything but yesterday’s man. He stamped his authority on this game from the outset, taking the line on time and again with jinking bursts for a team-high 72 running metres.

    Drilling the ball into the corners from both feet, always finding grass and tackling everything that came his way around the boot laces, the angle he ran to set up Tim Nanai-Williams’ try with that peach of a long ball and the other he ran to score himself, from a scrum no less, just added to the sadness – sadness that he won’t be doing those things in this part of the world for at least a few years after he jets off to Montpellier in Spring.

    Like everything else he did – except kick for goal – Cruden’s timing was immaculate given the context of Beauden Barrett’s rather muted display against the same opposition last weekend.

    But here’s the thing: Cruden’s opposite, Richie Mo’unga, was arguably better!

    (Image: AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    The Crusaders ten put on an attacking masterclass, instigating two of his team’s tries on his way to a game-high 88 run metres. But it was in the kicking of virtually every point on offer – four penalties and two from three conversions – that was a stark departure from his counterpart and ultimately what won the game.

    His kicks for touch were something to behold – they were booming things that carved off half the length of the pitch in some instances.

    Fittingly it was Cruden’s kick over the defence that Mo’unga latched onto to find space on the outside to set up the play that ultimately led to David Havili’s belting try that regained the lead for the ‘visitors’.

    He was at it again when he sliced through the Chiefs defence before having the smarts to find blockbusting crowd favourite Manasa Mataele. A quick recycle from the ruck had substitute hooker Ben Funnell burrowing over in the corner. Mo’unga added the flourish with a sideline conversion.

    Mo’unga’s performance in such a white-hot cauldron is the sort that can shift the dial on a player in selectors’ minds. Hansen and co will continue to watch him with forensic interest.

    Lastly, but not least, I can’t not touch on Damian McKenzie. As is usual, the Chiefs diminutive dynamo just couldn’t stay out of this game. He was typically brilliant under the high ball. There were scything counters through broken play. He had great presence of mind to not die with the ball putting others into space while he was at it. Plus the penetrating wipers kicks. It was another vintage effort.

    It was all summed up by one passage of play in the 16th minute. Fielding a high ball eight metres on the Crusaders side of halfway, McKenzie scampered on a run in which he stepped, dummied and swerved in seamless succession before offloading in the tackle to a flying James Lowe.

    Then as first receiver at the next ruck he threw a no-look inside ball to Anton Anton Lienert-Brown before being the first to clean out the ensuing ruck, albeit ineffectively. But he’s excused for that, being a back and all, and a rather small one at that.

    I could go on and on about how good Goodhue, Luke Romano, Nathan Harris and Kane Hames were or how epic the battle between Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallic was, but I’m sensing you’re getting the picture, so I’ll just leave it at that.

    The bloke whose idea it was to stage this annual fixture in Fiji deserves an extra slurp from the kava bowl. The packed house was in splendid, passionate voice and gave this encounter the atmosphere it deserved.

    Suffice to say, it wasn’t a bad game, and it was one that, despite the loss, would have had my mate and staunch Chiefs man John ‘JT’ Taylor, who passed away this week, smiling down from above. Rest in peace, JT.

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    The Crowd Says (46)

    • May 20th 2017 @ 8:15am
      Dcnz said | May 20th 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      Great game and would have been tighter if Cruden had his kicking boots on.

      Mo’unga out performed Cruden, who is one of my favourite players. That break out try from the back where the Cru fullback scored was one of the best this year imho. Without Mo’unga the Cru would have lost as he created the crucial third try.

      Still I thought the Chiefs were awesome.

    • May 20th 2017 @ 8:23am
      Fionn said | May 20th 2017 @ 8:23am | ! Report

      Wasn’t Cruden a great kicker in previous years, was it an off night or has his goal kicking deteriorated?

      • May 20th 2017 @ 9:11am
        moaman said | May 20th 2017 @ 9:11am | ! Report

        I wouldn’t use the term “great” to ever describe Cruden’s goal-kicking prowess.He has been ‘serviceable’ , ‘steady’ a 75% sort of man.Has added a few metres to his quiver over the years but never really improved on his conversion rate.

        Real shame for NZ/SH rugby to lose the likes of Lowe, Cruden et al. I keep getting reminded of it.

        • May 20th 2017 @ 9:20am
          Fionn said | May 20th 2017 @ 9:20am | ! Report

          ‘Great’ being relative, he’s obviously no Morne Steyn, I (mistakenly it seems) thought he was above 80 and possibly a better kicker than Carter.

          I’m not so upset about it ?.

        • Roar Guru

          May 20th 2017 @ 9:24am
          Machooka said | May 20th 2017 @ 9:24am | ! Report

          It’s rather ironic eh moaman that with NZ rugby being in such a rich vein of form and talent that you’re losing some of that precious talent overseas. And all because there’s just too much of it to stay and play in NZ.

          • May 20th 2017 @ 12:18pm
            Scrumma said | May 20th 2017 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

            Not bad for a small populated country don’t you agree Guru ?.
            The rest of the rugby world can be thankful our Allblacks don’t have a billionair to look after our rugby talent and keep them in NZ.
            The rest of the rugby world can also be thankful that the skill level shown in today’s games wasn’t on show back in the early pro era days, but those back then still did a wonderful job in keeping the Allblacks legacy strong.

          • Roar Rookie

            May 20th 2017 @ 1:37pm
            Kirky said | May 20th 2017 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

            Chook! ~ Sadly that’s one of the downsides of being in the elite area of the Kiwi rugby playing roster.

            Aaron Cruden as we all know is surely still a very good player and as such he was at the one time the Number 1 go to man for the Chiefs and the All Blacks but when he got himself injured last Season a guy called Barrett stepped into his spot and the rest is History!

            He’d have been very aware of the upcoming talent just waiting there for their turn (for want of better phraseology), so he was in a rather long line of very good ‘first five eights’ just sitting there waiting to be plucked, Sopoaga, Mo’unga, to name but a couple and I read this morning that Jimmy Gopperth has been named as best in Comp’ in the UK, ~ he was a very good player in the same boat as Cruden, but he was beyond Dan Carter, ~ Nick Evans just retired, a Champ in the UK Championships also who also was behind on Dan Carter, all of these guys are and were wonderful players who weren’t about to sit around in the Great Ones’ shadow, ~ to the North they went knowing that they would never be able to pull on the Black Jersey again because of their current affiliations!

            Them’s the breaks in New Zealand International rugby and it is what it is and very unlikely to change!

            That’s the situation Cruden finds himself, in behind all those pre named First fives’, just champing at the bit, so it’s a reasonably well known fact that he’d prefer to stay in New Zealand, less money and all, but he was made the very good proverbial offer by the cash Monsters up North who just thrive on these guys and their demise in rugby Kiwi!

            He, in the favourable scheme of things would still be wearing the Black Jumper but he was behind one of the most mercurial five eights in the game at this moment and that’s it in a nutshell.

            He kicked badly last night which is not truly indicative of his prowess as a kicker as he’s better than that we all know that, all kickers go through those episodes at some time, ~ but what a great game he had last night making one think that he was trying to ”shove one up” old Beauden!

            He’s always been a fave’ of mine and personally I’m certainly sorry to see him go, something which appears to be the inevitable in Elite rugby in the Shaky Isles, ~ too much excellent talent going away because of circumstances beyond their control really.

            The one that bugs me just as much, is Stevie Luatua going to Bristol a Second Divvy’ team in the UK, after Pat Lam sucked him in because he, after this years gig with Connacht is going to be the Bristol Coach!

            It’s a damn shame and although Shag, Smithy’ and co’ don’t like it there’s ‘sweet fanny’ they can do about it, as ultimately it’s the Players decision whatever he does!

            • May 20th 2017 @ 1:58pm
              Scrumma said | May 20th 2017 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

              that mercurial first five helped the Irish cause in making history by not slotting his goals adding unwanted pressure to an unbalanced engine room.
              Beauden was kept quiet last week because the highly rated crusaders forwards pack laid the foundation for victory and the canny canes turning down multiple 3 point shots at goal or was it because Beauden wasn’t confident in his kicking for goal.

          • Roar Guru

            May 20th 2017 @ 1:44pm
            The Neutral View From Sweden said | May 20th 2017 @ 1:44pm | ! Report

            Hello Guru! 😉
            How are you doing today?

        • May 20th 2017 @ 9:59am
          Pinetree said | May 20th 2017 @ 9:59am | ! Report

          Moaman gives a pretty accurate description of Cruden’s kicking. I am not sure about the overall international performances for kicking percentage, but I will put these stats down as a comparison for AB games.

          Games for ABs – Carter 112 Cruden 47
          Points scored – Carter 1598 Cruden 322
          Tries – Carter 29 Cruden 5
          Conversions – Carter 293 Cruden 63
          Penalties – Carter 281 Cruden 56
          Drop Goals – Carter 8 Cruden 1
          Average points per game – Carter 14.27 Cruden 6.85.

          So if you divided the number of games by any stat, Carter wins easily as far as amount of points scored by any method per game.

          The only kickers that would compare and were perhaps better kickers were Grant Fox at a average of 14.02 per game, and considering Foxy only got 1 try, shows you how many kicks he slotted. Mehrtens has to be up there with a 13.81 point average per game. Spencer is the next on the list with an average of 8.31, then Cruden at 6.85 as mentioned above.

          For slotting over the points, Carter, Fox and Mehrtens seen to be by far the most consistent scorers. Cruden plays a good territory and kick through to re-gather game though and is obviously a strong runner and distributor etc. and will be a sad loss for the ABs.

          • May 20th 2017 @ 1:26pm
            moaman said | May 20th 2017 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

            Thanks Piney for providing some stuffing to bolster my assertions.
            I was going to have to delve into the archives to satisfy Fionn but your answer is more than adequate compensation 😉

            Chook…I can hear you clucking away from here….picturing your tail-feathers all a-quiver as you put quill (?) to parchment…..

          • Roar Guru

            May 20th 2017 @ 1:50pm
            The Neutral View From Sweden said | May 20th 2017 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

            Thanks for that Pinetree, great stats that brings home your argument with a bang.

            Average points per game for Cruden is 6.85 (with tries included)?
            Is that not very low for a flyhallf in AB’s?

            • May 20th 2017 @ 3:13pm
              Pinetree said | May 20th 2017 @ 3:13pm | ! Report

              Hi Neutral – Yes that is including tries with Cruden (5 tries). Even though Spencer had a greater average, he scored 14 tries in 35 caps which helped the average a lot. Spencer was a similar kicker to Cruden, wobbly at times but reasonably reliable. Barrett has an average of 6.06 with 18 tries in 49 matches (a good number of those would of been from the bench). Cruden is about on average for most 10’s in NZ, just shows how many points the boot can give you and why a really good kicker can make a difference. NH certainly has plenty of talent for place kickers and kick better than NZ currently by a fair way. SA has an endless supply of awesome place kickers as well.

              • Roar Guru

                May 20th 2017 @ 3:27pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | May 20th 2017 @ 3:27pm | ! Report

                Hi Pinetree

                Some amazing stats here. Give great insights (but of course we not only look at stats but they do give away some good leads).

                And yes, BBBBB stats is not really comparable. Too many games of the bench and too many games as fullback (with no kicking duties).

                What really blows me away when reading these stats is just how devastating Dan Carter was (and maybe still is). Carter did all those things a flair Kiwi flyhallf should do (and defended like a tiger), but he was also a better goal kicker than most (all?) kickers up north and int he republic also.

            • May 20th 2017 @ 5:17pm
              moaman said | May 20th 2017 @ 5:17pm | ! Report

              It’s only low compared to one or two exceptions.Carter kicked a heckofalot of conversions….a disproportionately lower number of penalty-goals and a hatful of ‘droppies’ ( even though he was the first modern kiwi 1st 5 to embrace the field-goal).

              The ‘Big 3’ of Carter, Mehrtens and Fox are head, shoulders and torso ahead of the chasing pack when it comes to points per match.
              DC 14.27
              GF 14.02
              AM 13.81
              are miles ahead of Carlos Spencer 8.5 and the likes of Cruden (6.85) and Barrett ( 6.06) as already mentioned by Pinetree.

              Of the current crop available, I rate Lima Sopoaga as the most reliable kicker and the one most capable of achieving a mid-80s %.

              I have opined elsewhere that I reckon Farrell is the best going at international level at present….and Morne Steyn the best I have seen .Carter the best of the AB kickers; he nailed sooo many sideline goals it was amazing! He was more fallible when the ball was closer to the sticks I reckon…..

    • Roar Guru

      May 20th 2017 @ 9:01am
      Machooka said | May 20th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

      Thanks Matt for an enjoyable read about a pure rugby contest between two sides who weren’t afraid to make it so.

      I must admit, as I watched the game, the thought crossed my mind that this game would be a perfect advertisement for SR. Sure there were mistakes and some poor goal kicking but, geez, the rest of the stuff was pure, albeit engrossing rugby. I want more. Yes, more please.

      For mine Scotty’s skirt was the highlight of the night! 🙂

      • Roar Guru

        May 20th 2017 @ 1:55pm
        The Neutral View From Sweden said | May 20th 2017 @ 1:55pm | ! Report

        I thought is was the perfect add why Sanzaar MUST find a way to include a team from Fiji in the future.
        I know there is no funding for that now, but there must be a way.
        Anyone else than me that think a Fijian team in SR will increase the overall value of the competition? Any team from the Islands I believe would fast become the Green Bay Packers of SR and get support from all over SH (and NH also, the love for Island rugby is universal among rugby fans).

        • May 20th 2017 @ 3:05pm
          Robert said | May 20th 2017 @ 3:05pm | ! Report

          Serious question, what’s the obsession with fiji, specifically from the aru, just asking because no one ever suggests a team from Samoa or Tonga

          • Roar Guru

            May 20th 2017 @ 3:11pm
            The Neutral View From Sweden said | May 20th 2017 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

            Me personally loves Samoa and Tonga also. The difference is that Fiji have a one million plus population and way better infrastructure than Samoa and Tonga. For me that really makes a difference at the moment. Bringing onboard Fiji would probably be take some investing from Sanzaar, but not even close what would be needed in Samoa and especially Tonga (they are not even allowed to play the Test against Wales at home later this tear due to por infrastructure).
            My hope and dream for the future is that if Fiji could be included first in SR (and maybe TRC later) and if it works out just fine, then it would be more logical and easy to see if Samoa and Tonga can be taken onboard also.

            I have spoken with enough people from Samoa, Fiji and Tonga to understand that they don’t really want a combined PI side, they are much to proud about their own small nations.

            • May 20th 2017 @ 6:59pm
              Robert said | May 20th 2017 @ 6:59pm | ! Report

              Thanks that explains everything

          • May 20th 2017 @ 7:09pm
            Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | May 20th 2017 @ 7:09pm | ! Report

            Fijians like Aussies?
            It’s not a universal sentiment.

    • May 20th 2017 @ 9:09am
      The Sheriff said | May 20th 2017 @ 9:09am | ! Report

      A perfect summary of a fantastic game of rugby.
      Why not just let the Kiwi teams play each other every week.
      Of course we could let our Aussie teams play each other every week, too!
      Then we would get some wins and we would see some great rugby each week from the aforementioned.

      • May 20th 2017 @ 7:31pm
        Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | May 20th 2017 @ 7:31pm | ! Report

        A very well written piece about a fantastic game of rugby.
        Great wordsmithery there Matt. I watched the whole game, and thought that the Chiefs had the Saders measure throughout. Until the end.

        It had everything – two fantastic teams playing flat out attack, good refereeing, a wild passionate crowd, and a pakeha in a skirt.
        It looked like a party. This piece compliments the fun.

    • May 20th 2017 @ 9:29am
      Scrumma said | May 20th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

      I myself hail from Rotorua and I support all our franchises but I am neutral when it’s our own brother countrymen having to do battle and why wouldn’t I when this competition allows us to express ourselves against four other offshore countries franchises and the last stepping stone to becoming an Allblack brother.
      Awesome game to watch, great battle and hard fought win for the crusaders, hard luck Chiefs.

    • May 20th 2017 @ 9:29am
      MacKenzie said | May 20th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

      Waikato and Chiefs rugby has historically been known as being rather “flaky” when it comes to the big time and so it was evident again last night. Whilst the Crusaders were methodical and disciplined especially in the second half when they applied the blow torch, so we saw the “fairy dairy” land type of loose football by the Chiefs not suitable for the occasion.
      The Chiefs game was riddled with mistakes as panic and tiredness set in and strong leadership was required. I was simply amazed that with the game in its death throes twice the Chiefs wasted time by walking very slowly up to the lineouts. It was them trailing and with little time left, urgency was required. They lost the lineouts too,
      Cruden had a bad night goalkicking and with Barrett struggling with his kicking as well, the All Blacks will be concerned about this aspect of the game against the Lions. As for McKenzie he looks to be short of absolute top speed. He chased the Crusaders and made the last diving tackle when they scored in the second half so no lack of commitment but he is caught out by the speed merchants over the longer distance.

      • May 20th 2017 @ 1:08pm
        RedandBlack said | May 20th 2017 @ 1:08pm | ! Report

        You are within a score – so the idea is you settle it down, make sure of it, score the try and take the lead with no time on the clock for them to come back. Didn’t work this time of course – but that doesn’t make it a bad idea. I’m sure if they were 2 scores down you would have seen some scamper.

      • May 20th 2017 @ 2:51pm
        mace22 said | May 20th 2017 @ 2:51pm | ! Report

        I’ve heard this goal kicking is a problem theory since carter retired or maybe before, that is until the RWC where carter was sensational. It’s only come to haunt them once in 11 tests since the RWC , which is a pretty good strike rate. So goal kicking isn’t a concern if you score plenty of tries. Anyway barrett was on fire in the EOYT.

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