Sunday, May 19, 2024

Chiefs ready to unleash against Crusaders

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Expect plenty of Super Rugby fireworks when coach Warren Gatland’s Chiefs host Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson’s Crusaders in Hamilton on Saturday night.

That’s the mouth-watering prospect following the Chiefs come from 19-5 behind 37-29 first round win against the Blues at Eden Park.

Watching the contest between 31-year-old first-five Aaron Cruden and Richie Mo’unga should be worth the price of admission alone after replacement Cruden and Anton Lienert-Brown orchestrated the Chiefs incredible comeback at Eden Park.

Cruden had the tactical nous and astute kicking game the Blues lacked and it was his late drop-goal and penalty that deprived his opponents a bonus point for losing.

Not that the Blues were totally bereft of talent. With Alex Hodgman leading the way, their scrum dominated the first half. Flanker Tony Lamborn and No 8 Hoskins Sotutu ran strongly and left wing Rieko Ioane scored two determined tries coming off the blind.

Lighter and sharper this year after his form faltered last season when he lost his All Blacks berth to George Bridge, Ioane could not have made a more impressive start.

However I hope he remains on the wing instead of his preference at centre where England international Joe Marchant and TJ Faiane look capable of forming a good partnership.

Brother Akira will also be hungering to get his chance after his form dropped alarmingly when he was unfit and overweight for Auckland in last year’s Mitre 10.

Akira is an exceptionally gifted athlete but so is Sotutu, son of former Auckland star Waisake, who should keep him on his toes.

Second-half replacement props Karl Tu’inukuafe and Ofa Tu’ungafasi had strong ball-carrying games but surprisingly failed to make an impression against an improved Chiefs scrum.

The calls for new Blues recruit Beauden Barrett are already being sounded but he won’t be back until April 15 following a well-deserved rest. He certainly should make a difference but first the team collectively need to stop making silly judgmental errors and fumbling the ball when tries beckon.

Meanwhile having beaten the Waratahs 43-25 at Nelson, the Crusaders live on despite the loss of Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua and Ryan Crotty.

With Braydon Ennor relishing the chance to play centre, Will Jordan and Leicester Fainga’anuku looked champion wings when starting ahead of All Blacks George Bridge and Sevu Reece.

Fainga’anuku is fast, powerful and fearless and doesn’t shirk hard work while the speedy Jordan has silky skills.

Other teams to impress were the Stormers (who scored five tries in their 27-0 thrashing of the woeful Hurricanes) and the Jaguares who hammered the once-powerful Lions 38-8.

Meanwhile, the Australian Open more than lived up to the expectations of Melbourne tennis fans with Novak Djokovic winning the men’s crown for the eighth time and Russian-born American Sofia Kenin claiming her first women’s Grand Slam.

Djokovic, aged 31, went five enthralling sets 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3. 6-4 with Austrian star Dominic Thiem, 26, to continue the dominance he and fellow veterans Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have enjoyed for so long.

Djokovic now has 17 Grand Slams, one behind Nadal and two behind Federer.

Kenin, at 21, is special, having beaten two-times major winner Garbine Muguruza 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. It could be her first of many.

Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer


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