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Crusaders scrape home against Chiefs
February 27, 2000

Defending Super 12 champions rely on late dropped goal for 27-24 victory.

In hot, windy conditions in Hamilton this afternoon , the Chiefs made light of the injury problems which have so bedevilled their pre-season preparations in giving defending champions the Crusaders a real fright.With seven minutes remaining , the Chiefs were ahead by three points, but a dropped goal by substitute Mauger proved just enough to secure the four championship points.The Chiefs could have tied things up, but with the final kick of the game their fly half Glen Jackson pushed a penalty kick wide of the posts.

It has to be asked why the Hamilton pitch was in such poor condition for such an important game.It appeared not to have been watered for weeks , the fierceness of the bounce at times frustrating the players and adding to the general scrappiness of much of the play.

The Crusaders started well , Mehrtens looking dangerous on the break, Berryman , Blackadder and Cribb prominent in the early surges as they set up pressure through continuity.Fijian wing Vunibaka was worked into space on the right and it was only the pace of the Chiefs' wing Roger Randle that ran him down. There seemed nothing wrong with the Chiefs' morale , however, their defence was solid and they were quick on the counter attack, Leaupepe always looking dangerous and creative.

In the first 20 minutes it was mostly Crusaders attack and Chiefs defence, but the attackers were having difficulty in finishing off their movements, handling errors at vital moments letting them down.

Mehrtens kicked his first penalty after 18 minutes , after Isitolo Maka infringed on the floor, but it was the big no 8' s driving play off the back of the scrum which set up the opportunity for Glen Jackson to equalise in the 22nd minute.Maka was in fact becoming more noticeable for his runs beyond the gain line as the Chiefs' forwards showed that they could compete by containing the Crusaders' efforts to break them open up the middle.

The Chiefs scored the first try after 27 minutes , Leaupepe making ground and Randle almost wriggling over.From the resulting 5 metres scrum , Maka attacked the line , was held up , but Duggan fed Leaupepe , Crichton came into the line and scored to the left of the posts.

Mehrtens quickly equalised with his second penalty and from the kick off Jackson's kick failed to go the required 10 metres. From the scrum on half way Mehrtens unleashed a bomb , Crichton caught but then spilled the ball when running into the tackle , Blackadder picked up the loose ball and sprinted 22 metres to the left hand corner.Yes, sprinted !

A 37th minute penalty by Jackson brought the scores level, then the Chiefs scored the best try of the game. Leaupepe broke the defence after a scrum on the Chiefs' 22 , fed Karauna who was cutting in off the left wing , he passed on to flanker Tukino and lock Chresten Davis ran in unopposed from 22 metres.Jackson kicked the conversion to give the Chiefs an 18-13 lead at half time.Most of the game had been played in their half but they had proved adept at taking their chances.

This lead was extended to eight points after Jackson kicked a 42nd minute penalty.The Chiefs had their tails up , harrassing the Crusaders, putting them under pressure.A magnificent run through the middle by Randle should have led to another try , but flanker Glen Marsh knocked on at the critical moment.The Chiefs looked consistently dangerous in broken play , the Crusaders started to look clumsy.

Mehrtens and Jackson traded penalties before Ralph scored in the left hand corner after Berryman had made the most of an advantage being played by referee O'Brien.He got the ball wide via Mayerhofler who in turn fed Ralph.His pace took him beyond the cover defence.

Chiefs' replacement hooker, Greg Smith,was sin-binned shortly after for punching in a scrum and although the Chiefs launched a series of ferocious assaults on the Crusaders' line they could not quite make the critical breach.Mehrtens brought the scores level after 73 minutes and replacement full back Aaron Mauger kicked the crucial dropped goal in the 78th minute.Jackson had chances with a dropped goal and a last minute penalty but his kicks sailed agonisingly wide.

The champions, notoriously slow starters to the season , had escaped fortuitously but will only get stronger as the tournament progresses.The Chiefs did not do much wrong. Their scrum held up and their lineout and loose forward play was competitive throughout.An upset was on the cards with ten minutes remaining, but once again luck had eluded them.

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