The Canterbury Crusaders showed they remain a force to be reckoned with as they began life without Robbie Deans and Dan Carter by beating the Waikato Chiefs 19-13 yesterday.
Despite the closeness of the score, the Crusaders were never behind in their opening Super 14 match and there was a familiar pattern to their play.
The standard bearers of New Zealand rugby soaked up the best a fired up Chiefs could throw at them in the second half and then came back to put the result beyond doubt with a try in the 80th minute.
The Chiefs, with a reputation for being slow starters and under achievers, have nevertheless been the Crusaders’ bogey team in recent years, winning their last two matches.
And after turning 5-14 down at halftime and narrowing the gap to 13-14 with 20 minutes remaining, they had reason to feel they could make it three in a row.
But when the pressure was on, the Crusaders came up with a try to answer questions about how the most successful team in Super 14 rugby would fare with All Blacks fly-half Carter unavailable and coach Deans now in Australia.
Casey Laulala was the standout performer for the Crusaders, with the former All Blacks center scoring the first and last tries of the match and generally making life difficult for incumbent All Black Richard Kahui.
The Chiefs threatened at the base of the pack, where Liam Messam, Tanerau Latimer and Sione Lauaki proved a formidable trio and half-back Brendon Leonard was a constant danger with probing runs around the side of the ruck.
In the clash of the fly-halves, a focus of New Zealand rugby this year with Carter injured, rising Crusaders pivot Colin Slade held an edge over All Black Stephen Donald, although both suffered with their tactical kicking.
Donald was fortuitously rewarded for one wayward clearing kick that looked to be a gift for the Crusaders until it bounced backwards and sideways into the arms of Lelia Masaga, who ran 50m to put Richard Kahui over in the corner.
Slade was also rewarded with a delicate chip kick to put Laulala in for the first of his tries. Tim Bateman scored for the Crusaders from an 80m solo run and Slade added two conversions.
Kahui and Leila Masaga scored for the Chiefs, with Donald landing one penalty.
■WARATAHS V HURRICANES
The New South Wales Waratahs overcame a serious territory deficit by producing a rock-solid defense to pull off a bonus-point 26-22 win over the Wellington Hurricanes in their Super 14 clash yesterday.
Although only in the Hurricanes’ half for less than 20 minutes of the match, last year’s beaten finalists made the most of their limited chances.
Their first three attacking raids all produced tries and within half an hour they were up 19-0.
They then produced their bonus-point fourth try at a crucial stage of the game, with 10 minutes remaining and the Hurricanes closing fast.
Sam Norton-Knight opened the scoring during the Waratah’s first foray inside the Hurricanes 22, running off a break by outstanding center Rob Horne.
Lote Tuqiri came off his wing to take an inside pass for the second try and then Lachlan Turner latched on to a misdirected chip kick from Ma’a Nonu to run 90m for the third try.
Two conversions by Kurley Beale and the visitors were up 19-0 before the Hurricanes were able to justify their huge territorial advantage with a try by fly-half Dan Kirkpatrick.