Wow. Against all odds, the Chiefs' huge run of success was ended. With about 10 minutes to go, victory looked assured for Clayton McMillan's men, after trailing by 10-15 at half-time. Although the Chiefs' comeback has them up by 20-15 at the time of Sam Cane's yellow card, the match ended in a 20-25 defeat; not the happy ending that Alex Nankivell, Pita Gus Sowakula, Brad Weber and Brodie Retallick would have wished for.
But what match-day symptoms left the Chiefs unable to finish the job? For one last time in 2023, let's read through the Chiefs players from jersey number 1, through to number 23 and see how every player went.
CHIEFS PLAYER RATINGS
Uncapped All Blacks winger, Emoni Narawa, played an outstanding match despite the outcome for his team. Photo: Max Sharp.
Loosehead Prop - Aidan Ross (5/10)
Unable to gain metres on any of his three carries, Ross' two other touches were passes. He certainly held the scrum well, before coming off with 6 tackles in 50 minutes; despite the Chiefs' 42% possession rate in the first half.
Hooker - Samisoni Taukei'aho (5/10)
Having worked so thoroughly on his lineout throwing after a bad 2020 season, Taukei'aho has long reaped the rewards of that improvement and rightfully become an All Black. Ultimately, an off night at set-piece, had more impact than his hard-working defence of 14 tackles (second-most of the team) and 1 turnover. Ran 19 metres and beat 1 defender off 6 carries.
Tighthead Prop - George Dyer (5/10)
In an average night for the Chiefs' starting front row, Dyer was also unable to gain metres off his only carry, while only making 5 tackles in 60 minutes. One area of the game that Dyer worked particularly hard at, was availability to clear the breakdown.
Lock 4 - Brodie Retallick (7/10)
Though the result didn't go Retallick's way, his final game for the Chiefs showed the grafter's spirit that has been present throughout his career by running 6 metres off 5 tight carries, while delivering 9 tackles on the other side of the ball.
Lock 5 - Tupou Vaa'i (6/10)
Although he'll be elevated into a starting role for the All Blacks in 2024, Vaa'i did receive one more lesson from the old dog Sam Whitelock before this happens. Vaa'i worked hard and was ever-present at the breakdown, also making 7 tackles, but ran out of steam and got subbed off with 20 minutes left.
Blindside Flanker - Pita Gus Sowakula (6/10)
Will have left those attempting tackles on him with sore bodies, grunting through 24 metres off 5 carries in the tight spaces. Was perhaps having an off night on defence, clocking up just 3 for his tackle tally, though he did win 1 turnover. Should Sowakula have come off the bench?
Openside Flanker - Sam Cane (4/10)
In recent years, I've praised Sam Cane for the improvement of his discipline. However, if we do want to argue that the game was decided by a "moment", then it wasn't the first-half forward pass by the Crusaders that resulted in nothing, it was Cane's third failure to correctly move at the breakdown; with his blatant side-entry resulting in a yellow card. Cane was the top tackler of the game with 22, but will certainly be disappointed in his failure to win any turnovers, shift far away enough from the set-piece ahead of Mo'unga's try, or slow opposition ball.
Number 8 - Luke Jacobson (5/10)
The "form" shown by Jacobson to earn an All Blacks re-call has been sporadic this season, with tonight's performance proving this re-call as a farce that will only damage combination-building. His jekyll-and-hyde effort included 12 metres off 4 carries, 2 passes, 13 tackles and 1 turnover, but also a massive failure to alter his line in the final carry of the match; leading to a turnover for Leicester Fainga'anuku, as well as a yellow card in the first half.
Halfback - Brad Weber (7/10)
Weber's final game, like Retallick's, sums up his time in a Chiefs jersey. It was centred around consistent delivery of quick ball to his team, solid captaincy and also, 7 tackles. Weber's post-match interview was also an excellent example of good sportsmanship despite the result. Congratulations on a great Super Rugby career.
First Five - Damian McKenzie (8/10)
Although the dreadful decision to pass to Jacobson with just a single ruck clearance option available and missed penalty happened at the end, McKenzie was otherwise very good. One of just two genuine strike runners on the night, McKenzie ran 149 metres and beat 3 defenders off 19 carries, while delivering 26 passes. Third-most tackles of the team, with 13.
Left Wing - Etene Nanai-Seturo (7/10)
Although he had a quiet night off the ball, the number 11 certainly gave it his best with possession for 58 metres and 2 defenders beaten from 7 carries. Attempted to keep the ball alive too, passing on three occasions.
Second Five - Anton Lienert-Brown (4/10)
Lienert-Brown made his best efforts for the cause, but ultimately saw them go awry. Got lucky to stay on the pitch after the TMO deemed his head clash not to meet red card criteria, though he did make another 10 tackles. A bit average with ball-in-hand, with 11 metres off 6 carries.
Centre - Alex Nankivell (7/10)
Although featuring in ways not noticeable to the initial naked eye, Nankivell can be proud of his final game for the Chiefs. Though his Conrad Smith-esque match shows us just 7 metres, 4 carries, 6 passes, 5 tackles and 1 turnover, Nankivell did brilliantly to send Stevenson into space many-a-time, while also enabling the wingers to run crash-ball lines.
Right Wing - Emoni Narawa (9/10)
This is why he's been named in the All Blacks. Narawa was a useful go-to off the boot; providing the goods aside from one mishap. Narawa's 5 tackles saw him finish the season with an 88% tackle rate, while he also ran in 1 try, 136 metres, 7 defenders beaten and 1 clean break off 13 carries.
Fullback - Shaun Stevenson (5/10)
Aside from a brave counter-attack inside his own half, Stevenson was otherwise a lame duck without Nankivell enabling him for 2 clean breaks. These three carries did allow Stevenson to gain the opening try and 104 metres with his pace, but his other 10 were simple cases of taking the ball into contact. Stevenson is a specialist finisher, who wasn't able to match Will Jordan's all-round efforts.
Reserve Hooker - Tyrone Thompson (No rating)
On for Taukei'aho with just 12 minutes to go, so won't be rated.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Ollie Norris (7/10)
Continued Ross' scrum efforts, gained 4 initial metres from 4 carries and will have fetched some post-contact metres for sure. Massive hits on his 5 tackles, with 1 turnover too. Norris was robbed of a spot in the All Blacks XV.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - John Ryan (4/10)
Is beginning to look like his return to Munster for 2023-24, should be his last season. Although he gave it his best, including 4 robust tackles, Ryan's looking exhausted after an extended season, showing ruck speed that was just microseconds off what the game needed in the dying moments.
Reserve Lock - Naitoa Ah Kuoi (No rating)
Replaced Vaa'i with 20 minutes to go, but won't be rated due to not receiving many opportunities.
Reserve Loose Forward - Samipeni Finau (6/10)
The stat sheets for the new All Black show us just 3 metres, 4 carries and 3 tackles, but the opposition will be very sore from all of them, which resulted in huge hits. Finau also gained a hefty total of post-contact metres off his first carry. Why did he not get used as a single-man pod out wide?
Reserve Halfback - Cortez Ratima (6/10)
Coming on to the field in the 60th minute, Ratima's arrival wasn't disruptive at all, as he picked up where Weber left off. Though the result didn't go the Chiefs' way, the passing of the baton has been.
Reserve Utility Back - Josh Ioane (7/10)
Replaced Nanai-Seturo with 20 to go, with Stevenson shifting to wing. Provided a safer defensive option on his 2 tackles, while doing his best to shift the ball off 9 passes and 1 offload. Got to make 7 metres and beat 1 defender off 2 carries.
Reserve Midfielder - Rameka Poihipi (No rating)
The number 23 did not play, so won't be rated.