The Chiefs didn't play poorly in this match. Yes some people will look at their 0-7 record and say that they are a weak team, but I think this Chiefs team is better than that record suggests. And in a normal SR season they probably don't lose to any team Australian or South African teams for the year and finish mid/upper mid table.
The Chiefs came to play, and had the ascendancy at the breakdown. Lachlan Boshier is the finest exponent of the breakdown turnover in NZ right now, and was strong in all facets. He must surely be in the reckoning for higher honours this year? Although I'm not sure his relatively small frame could be accommodated in a backrow that also feature Savea and Cane. Speaking of Cane, he was his usual busy self last night at the breakdown. I do worry about his passive leadership style and how this will translate at test level. The contrast between his captaincy and Sam Whitelock's leadership in the final quarter of the match was like night and day.
Pita Gus Sowakula has been great all season, and I thought he was the standout player of the match. His ability to make metres off the back of the scrum is awesome. He made lots of strong tackles and alongside his fellow Chiefs backrowers her terrorized the Crusaders at the breakdown.
In terms of negatives, Damien McKenzie gets lots of praise on this forum but he continues to be the most selfish player in NZ rugby. He robs his outside men of time and space and constantly crabbing across the field. His kicking game was aimless at times, and both Tom Sanders and Leicester Fainga’anuku speed-humped him to score tries. You really need your fullback to do better in both those situations, and the 'brave small man' excuses don't cut it.
This was the best I have seen the Crusaders pack pay all the season, which was very surprising given the players who were unavailable for this fixture. Yes at times they were bested at the breakdown by a lethal Chiefs backrow, but overall the pack was superior to the Chiefs and that was where the match was won. Their set piece was superb, their lineout was humming all night and they had the ascendancy at scrum time, winning multiple scrum penalties. Their driving maul to score a try at the end of the first half was the best driving maul I've seen this year . When the Crusaders maul is working you just know that their pack is switched on. Overall unheralded forwards like Tom Sanders (he ran for more metres in that try than for the rest of his career combined), Sione Havili and George Bower all had their best ever SR matches, and Andrew Makalio brought lots of impact off the bench. The senior duo in the pack, Sam Whitelock and Codie Taylor, were exceptional. They brought intensity, leadership and accuracy to this match. I thought this was the best performance by Sam Whitelock in a couple of years. He looked pumped and he looked angry, and he played extremely well. Special mention also to Mike Ala'alatoa, he doesn't get much mention in the press but his work at scrum time and in general play had been great all year and he bested his more highly credentialed opposite number Nepo Laulala.
Whilst the match was won by the hard working Crusaders pack, it was their back division that ensured that there was a 5-1 try count. Richie Mo'unga put on another general play master-class, athough he was inaccurate off the tee. His ability to create time and space for his outside men is unmatched. His preparedness to run the ball is also a key feature. It means that defenders cannot just drift off him, which creates more room for his backline. He looks to be in a great space now and full of confidence and I'm very hopeful that he gets the opportunity to cement his position in the AB team over the ensuring RWC cycle.
Sevu Reece, George Bridge and Will Jordan are the most dangerous back 3 in world rugby right now. They bring speed, agility, accuracy and an adventurous attacking mindset to every contest. George Bridge is much maligned on this forum, but he shows week, week out that he's a class act. His turn of pace is exceptional, and his chase and turn on Shaun Stevenson was a try saving effort. Sevu Reece brings the kind of energy and enthusiasm that you wish you could bottle, and Will Jordan just looks to be an all-round class act.
Overall it was an entertaining match to watch. The Chiefs didn't play badly at all and deserve plenty of credit. It was great to see the crowd honouring both Aaron Cruden and Sam Whitelock on their milestone matches, two legends of the game. And we even had a streaker, what a night!