Wow... what a spectacular start to Super Rugby Pacific's 2023 season! An emotional moment of silence for those who have been affected by Cyclone Gabrielle, very much set the tone for the Chiefs, who fielded two Hawke's Bay players in Brodie Retallick and Brad Weber. Though a structured approach to analyse the Crusaders' defence saw them behind by 7-10, a big impact off the bench from their tight-five and Josh Ioane saw the team leave Orangetheory Stadium victorious, with a win margin of 31-10, as they held the Crusaders scoreless in the second half.
19-time All Blacks captain, Sam Cane, had a strong second half as the Chiefs' leader against the Crusaders. Photo: Max Sharp.
To establish the key talking points of this big opener for the season, let's read through the Chiefs from jersey number 1 through to 23, as we examine how well each player went in this stunner of a game.
CHIEFS PLAYER RATINGS:
Loosehead Prop - Aidan Ross (7/10)
The typical Aidan Ross performance. Did the dirty work in the rucks and played his part in dismantling a Crusaders scrum in the first half. Didn't get many opportunities with ball in hand, running 4 metres off 2 carries, but generated front-foot ball. Perfect defence with 8/8 tackles.
Hooker - Samisoni Taukei'aho (7/10)
Remaining dangerous after experiencing a breakout year in 2022, Taukei'aho ran 20 metres and beat 5 defenders off 9 carries. Made good decisions with set-moves and made 4 passes, while missing a lone tackle out of his 13 attempts. Let's hope for another big year.
Tighthead Prop - George Dyer (5/10)
Dyer is in his sophomore season of Super Rugby after a short-term deal in 2022, so will get better for sure. Looked decent enough around the park with 5 metres run and 1 defender beaten from 5 carries, to go with 7/8 tackles. Will definitely come away from the match with some scrum tips from Joe Moody after getting smashed up front though...
Lock 4 - Brodie Retallick (9/10)
One of his best games in a long time, it's one of those ones where stats don't necessarily tell the whole story. Retallick's lineout work and ruck speed were massive for the Chiefs, while his opening try, 8 passes, 13/15 tackles and 1 turnover provided a lot of impact. Let's hope he remains in form like this.
Lock 5 - Tupou Vaa'i (8/10)
With the old dog in for the dirty work, the young pup looked to energise. Looking very much like a young Sam Whitelock, Vaa'i ran 35 metres, beat 3 defenders and made 1 linebreak off just 6 carries. Strong defence too; 9/10 tackles from a bloke that won't stop improving.
Blindside Flanker - Pita Gus Sowakula (7/10)
Not in his usual jersey but played a muscular part in wide channels during his 53 minutes. Sowakula's famous carrying amounted to 41 metres off 8 carries, while he added flair with 3 passes and 1 offload. 8/11 tackles could be better, but a neat display nevertheless.
Openside Flanker - Sam Cane (8/10)
Certainly hasn't lost any bulk after his facial fracture against Japan. Cane certainly made up for an early yellow card with his world-class effort of 1 try, 35 metres, 1 defender beaten and 1 linebreak off 8 carries, while distributing 7 passes, 2 offloads and defending with 1 turnover and 10/10 tackles. Would get a higher rating if not for the card.
Number 8 - Luke Jacobson (7/10)
Celebrated 50 games in glory. Came out guns blazing for the full 80 and used his shoulders correctly in tight spaces, with 15 metres and 1 defender beaten from 7 carries. Like Cane, Jacobson distributed 7 times and managed 1 turnover. If you don't notice a forward's contributions, they probably played well.
Halfback - Brad Weber (7/10)
A 52% possession rate for the Chiefs allowed Weber a total of 88 passes as he ran the cutter well, giving his fellow spine members time to work out the Crusaders' defence. Notable stats include his 3 strong carries for 24 metres and 3 defenders beaten to go with 1 turnover.
First-Five - Damian McKenzie (9/10)
Truly grew into the game after missing two early penalty misses. Was the team's best player with 46 metres and 4 defenders beaten off 8 carries, while giving a good variety with plays off 10; distributing 29 passes and 1 offload. Flawless defence with 6/6 tackles.
Left Wing - Solomon Alaimalo (No rating)
Wasn't given enough opportunities by his team, but it was very wholesome to see the number 11 play his first Super Rugby game since 2021. 6 metres and 4 carries are more reflective of the Crusaders' defence than Alaimalo's opportunities. You can't rate a winger off a 40-minute performance like this.
Second-Five - Anton Lienert-Brown (7/10)
Looked industrious and tenacious as usual, with smart decisions off his 6 passes and 1 offload. Did everything correctly off his 6 carries, totalling 42 metres, 3 defenders beaten and 2 clean breaks. Terrible news though; he came off injured. Let's hope our ALBy will be okay.
Centre - Alex Nankivell (9/10)
Munster bought themselves so much of a bargain that they must've gone to the Warehouse. Nankivell was supreme with ball-in-hand, scoring 1 try, running 88 metres, 6 defenders beaten and 3 clean breaks off a match-high 14 carries. 4/4 tackles, 6 passes and 1 turnover too.
Right Wing - Liam Coombes-Fabling (4/10)
You could really tell he was a late addition to the match-day 23. Was given lots of space but just managed 28 metres off 4 carries. Didn't do much work off-the-ball, and missed two tackles on debut for his new team.
Fullback - Shaun Stevenson (7/10)
Moving to wing in the second half made a massive difference. Ran 149 metres (most in the game), beat 9 defenders and made 3 clean breaks off 13 carries. His 16 passes and 2 offloads were perhaps a bit excessive, for the sake of passing though, while his lone missed tackle was a bit of a rookie-like error. A performance that highlighted all his attributes.
Reserve Hooker - Bradley Slater (No rating)
Played the last 13 minutes off the bench for Taukei'aho and only made 1 pass so won't receive a rating due to his lack of involvement. Probably could have come on earlier due to the winning margin.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Ollie Norris (7/10)
Assisted in forcing the Crusaders' only lost scrum and completed 3/3 tackles. Looked ready to assert damage and made a difference in generating front-foot ball for the team with his mobility. Why was the big man left out of the All Blacks XV?
Reserve Tighthead Prop - John Ryan (No rating)
Won't be rated due to running 1 metre off 1 carry and 2 tackles, but showed true professionalism to debut for his new club after arriving in New Zealand just 8 days ago. Ryan's experience will bring value as the season works away.
Reserve Lock - Naitoa Ah Kuoi (No rating)
Similarly to Ryan and Slater, Ah Kuoi won't be rated as his offensive and defensive efforts weren't on the pitch for long enough.
Reserve Loose Forward - Samipeni Finau (7/10)
His Tonga debut is looking inevitable at this point. Looked Shannon Frizell-esque as the Chiefs benefitted from placing a third lock on the blindside. Finau's 7 metres off 7 carries, 3 tackles, 1 turnover and quick ruck speed bullied the Crusaders up front in 27 minutes.
Reserve Halfback - Cortez Ratima (7/10)
Assured victory for the Chiefs by crossing the tryline, to put the margin out of reach. This lone carry also amounted to 29 metres, 3 defenders beaten and 1 clean break. Though coming on in the 62nd minute for Weber restricted Ratima to 13 passes, all looked good.
Reserve Utility Back - Josh Ioane (9/10)
If you use Google to search for "impact player", hopefully an image of Ioane will turn up. Made a huge difference as a second playmaker with good kicking, 11 passes, 1 offload and 5/5 tackles. Good work with the ball too, by running 36 metres, 3 defenders beaten and 1 linebreak off 1 carry. Start him at 15 next week.
Reserve Midfielder - Rameka Poihipi (No rating)
Like the most of the substitutes, Poihipi's involvement wasn't massive either, though 3/3 tackles were solid. May get to start next week with Lienert-Brown injury pending.