In a match that truly came down to the wire, the Crusaders were behind by just 5 points at half-time, where the margin was 7-12. A second-half surge got the near sell-out crowd out of their seats with some thrilling tries, though the loss of their set-piece dominance and ill-discipline saw the Crusaders lose their footing in the dying moments, losing by 24-34.
Despite their strong cover defence keeping the Chiefs tame, Scott Robertson will be disappointed by the last-minute loss of their comeback, as well as four disallowed tries. Let's read through the Crusaders from jersey number 1 through to 23 and see how each player performed.
As their cover defence strategy, analysed in my YouTube video on Ireland's 2023 Six Nations victory, was highly prominent in the match, tackle accuracy won't be factored in.
CRUSADERS PLAYER RATINGS
44-test All Blacks number 10, Richie Mo'unga, had an off day from the tee, kicking 3/5 goals at FMG Stadium, Waikato. Photo: Max Sharp.
Loosehead Prop - Joe Moody (6/10)
While sent through a few gaps courtesy of his teammates' offloads, for 30 metres and 1 defender beaten off 8 carries, Moody's discipline wasn't ideal. 2 of his 3 penalties lead to the Chiefs kicking for points. Completed 5 tackles.
Hooker - Codie Taylor (7/10)
Ran hard for 28 metres and 1 defender beaten off 11 carries, while also contributing 2 passes and a nice offload to Moody in open play. His 9 tackles were the second-most of the team, while 1 turnover was well-earned. The Crusaders' lone missed lineout was misthrown by Taylor.
Tighthead Prop - Tamaiti Williams (9/10)
The 1.96m and 144kg prop had a huge match. Williams scored the opening try, contributed 5 passes and made a huge hit on Brodie Retallick when carrying past the gainline. This was in his total of 25 metres and 2 defenders beaten off 7 carries. Scrum was far worse once Williams came off.
Lock 4 - Scott Barrett (7/10)
Aside from an early blunder where he knocked on a kickoff, Barrett had a strong effort. The captain was his team's top tackler with 12, while he ran 32 metres and beat 2 defenders off 9 carries. Provided 7 passes and 1 offload to open the match up in a certain thriller.
Lock 5 - Sam Whitelock (6/10)
Playing his 350th game of first-class rugby, Whitelock will be disappointed in the loss. He was a gem in the lineout and breakdown as usual, while running 16 metres off 6 carries. Made 4 passes, while his low rate of 4 tackles was due to his team's 66% possession rate.
Blindside Flanker - Dominic Gardiner (3/10)
The young man quite simply had a shocker. His 1.91m and 108kg frame was dealt to by Sam Cane and brutally pushed back over the gainline in his lone carry. Didn't have much impact on the breakdown aside from not rolling away twice. Having debuted in 2022, some second-year syndrome may help his long-term development. Made 5 tackles before being hooked after just 47 minutes.
Openside Flanker - Tom Christie (5/10)
We got to see Christie's continued improvement in open space with his 16 metres off 6 tight carries, though his normally world-class defence was off target today. His tackle rate was a 9/10, but in the 72nd minute, Christie made a massive error to drift far wider than Havili; opening the space Damian McKenzie used to set up Shaun Stevenson's try. Ineffective at the breakdown and conceded 2 penalties.
Number 8 - Cullen Grace (8/10)
Having been used from deep channels as a sweeper under the high ball, Grace was able to amass 78 metres and beat 1 defender in his 11 carries. Has improved his distribution and made 9 passes, to go with 4 tackles.
Halfback - Mitchell Drummond (7/10)
After Willi Heinz was injured in the warmup, Drummond was forced to play the full 80. Delivered some quality ball from the base of the ruck, to get some efficient strike moves working, especially early on. Appeared to have cramps late in the match but made 4 tackles.
First Five - Richie Mo'unga (5/10)
Similarly to Damian McKenzie, his opposite, Mo'unga had a real mixed bag of a game. His key errors were a missed tackle that lead Retallick to score, while he missed 2 from the tee. On the other hand, Mo'unga ran 52 metres and beat 2 defenders off 6 carries, while delivering 27 passes.
Left Wing - Leicester Fainga'anuku (7/10)
Punished the Chiefs' defence line many a time for 74 metres and 1 defender beaten in 14 carries, particularly lighting the game up with an early line break. Fainga'anuku found use as an extra distributor for 5 passes, though he was taken to touch a few times.
Second Five - David Havili (8/10)
His harshest critics will once again be livid with their narrative failing to hold up; as Havili beat a game-high 4 defenders with some powerful runs early on. Also managed 41 metres off his 9 carries, while one of his 5 passes allowed for a sensational Ennor offload. Provided some brilliant speed bumping on defence, though these are counted as missed tackles. His total tackle tally was 6; the fourth-highest of the team.
Centre - Braydon Ennor (7/10)
Turned up at the stadium with some opportunism, though he had trouble breaking the line so was stuck at 16 metres off 5 carries. While a half-time intercept was under advantage, Ennor provided one of the all-time offloads to send Burke over for a try. Made 4 total tackles.
Right Wing - Dallas McLeod (6/10)
Was picked at 14 for the sake of his defence and his 4 tackles and 1 turnover showed us he is indeed the goods regarding defence. Doesn't have the attacking instincts of a winger though, had run just 7 metres before being taken off in the 47th minute with a shoulder injury.
Fullback - Fergus Burke (7/10)
Showed a strong attacking effort for 50 metres and 2 defenders beaten in his 10 carries, while indeed scoring a try in the second half, having had one disallowed previously. Slotted in as a distributor for 5 passes, but still has work to do with defensive positioning from deep.
Reserve Hooker - Brodie McAlister (No rating)
Had a limited impact in his short, 12-minute stint, so won't be rated.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Kershawl Sykes-Martin (5/10)
Called in late as a replacement after Finlay Brewis' withdrawal and gave it a go with 1 tackle, 2 metres and 2 carries. Was punished badly in the scrum, being targeted by Chiefs veteran, John Ryan; also conceding 2 penalties.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - Oli Jager (4/10)
Although Jager didn't play well, not making any metres in 2 carries and making just 1 tackle, it's excellent to see him back after a lengthy layoff from a neck injury. Can't wait to see him back to his best soon.
Reserve Lock - Quinten Strange (7/10)
While the team's high possession rate meant that Strange didn't make any tackles during his 50th Super Rugby match, he did at least run 2 metres off his 2 carries, while the breakdown retention was far more robust in his initial entry to the pitch - sparking an initial comeback.
Reserve Loose Forward - Christian Lio-Willie (6/10)
Can't be faulted for an effort of 14 metres off a single robust carry. Made 2 tackles despite a low possession rate from his team. Put Lio-Willie at 8, with Grace at 6 next week.
Reserve Utility Back - Chay Fihaki (No rating)
Fhaki was bought onto the bench after Heinz' late withdrawal. As the 1.92m 22-year-old is a fulllback rather than a halfback, he did not play so won't be rated.
Reserve Midfielder - Jack Goodhue (7/10)
Replaced McLeod in the 47th minute, with Havili moving to 13 and Ennor moving to 14. Made 4 strong carries for 7 metres and 2 defenders beaten, while also contributing 7 passes and 2 offloads, as well as 3 tackles and 1 turnover. It's great to see that Goodhue isn't gun-shy after all his injuries.
Reserve Outside Back - Macca Springer (No rating)
Replaced Burke to play the last 7 minutes at fullback and didn't touch the ball so won't be rated.