A 78TH MINUTE Damian McKenzie penalty saw the Waikato Chiefs snatch a 26-25 victory over the Canterbury Crusaders in a Super Rugby Aotearoa thriller in which the lead changed six times in Hamilton on Saturday.
The Crusaders scored three tries to two, but were punished for infringements within kicking range as McKenzie landed four penalties including the match-winner.
It completed a Super slam for the Chiefs who snapped an 11 match losing streak by beating the other four New Zealand Super sides in their past four matches.
It was the second defeat in the competition for the defending champions Canterbury Crusaders but they remain at the top of the table on 23 points.
The Chiefs on 16, the Auckland Blues on 15 and the Otago Highlanders on 14 fill the next three places and all remain in with a chance to make the final.
The Crusaders have been below par in recent weeks, first losing to the Highlanders and then needing to come from behind to beat the Hurricanes in extra time last week.
It prompted coach Scott Robertson to rest several frontliners for the Chiefs’ match, so they can recharge.
His fresh-looking echelon came up one point short and victorious Chiefs captain Brad Weber acknowledged the result was no indicator of which two teams will make the final.
“If you want to be the best you’ve got to beat the best and that wasn’t the best Crusaders team tonight,” Weber said.
“We still need to be better at finishing our long breaks but the good thing is we are creating them.”
Chiefs’ Anton Lienert-Brown celebrates at the final whistle Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO
Leicester Fainga’anuku, filling in at centre for the injured Jack Goodhue, scored the Crusaders’ opening try when a scrambling Chiefs defence could not keep pace with a persistent Crusaders attack.
McKenzie banged over three penalties to have the Chiefs ahead 9-7 before the Crusaders struck back.
They regained the lead with a Richie Mo’unga penalty and Mo’unga featured again when he opened up a gap for Scott Barrett to barge through and set up Will Jordan for the try.
Mo’unga’s conversion had the Crusaders ahead 17-9 at the turn.
Within minutes of the restart, the Chiefs closed to within one point when Lachlan Boshier scored in the middle of a powerful forward drive to ignite a helter-skelter second half.