WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The Canterbury Crusaders juggernaut rolled impressively into the international break on a 10-match winning streak on Saturday after the Super Rugby champions beat the Waikato Chiefs 34-20 in Hamilton.
The competition leaders had to contend with a series of late personnel changes due to injury but four tries were enough to see off the rugged Chiefs and give Wyatt Crockett a win to celebrate his unprecedented 200th Super Rugby appearance.
The victory means the Crusaders go into the month-long hiatus with a nine-point cushion over the Wellington Hurricanes at the top of the New Zealand conference and looking well-set to defend their title.
The Chiefs, desperate for a win to keep up the pace in the toughest of the three conferences, briefly led the contest after a burst of two tries in three first-half minutes but were unable to get on the scoreboard for the last half an hour.
“We knew it was going to be tough, it’s a tough place to win up here,” said Crusaders captain Matt Todd.
“(Wyatt)‘s a champion man and a true Crusader, we’re just happy to get the win for him.”
The quick wits of the Crusaders had them first on the scoreboard in the fifth minute when they tapped a penalty while the Chiefs were still setting their defence and number eight Heiden Bedwell-Curtis scooted over in the corner.
Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga added the conversion and traded penalties with his opposite number Damian McKenzie to take the lead to 10-3 after 17 minutes before the Chiefs stormed right back into the contest.
Wainui raced across the line from a long McKenzie pass that looked suspiciously forward in the 20th minute before centre Charlie Ngatai hacked through and followed up to force a turnover, allowing flanker Luke Jacobson to add a second.
McKenzie missed both conversions to leave the lead at a slender 13-10 and the Chiefs’ advantage was erased after 35 minutes when Todd crashed over the line on the back of an unstoppable rolling maul.
Mo’unga continued his flawless night with the boot with another penalty to send the Crusaders into the break with a 20-13 advantage and winger Bridge crossed five minutes after the restart to further extend the lead.
All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick failed to come out for the second half for the Chiefs but the hosts were right back in the contest at 27-20 after Jacobson crashed over for his second try after 51 minutes.
The remainder of the match was an arm-wrestle but the Chiefs were unable to breach the red defensive line and replacement lock Luke Romano made the win safe for the Crusaders three minutes from time.
Chiefs coach Colin Cooper later said that Retallick had suffered a pectoral injury but that he was uncertain how serious it was. That will be a concern for the All Blacks a week out from the first of three tests against France.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)