Crusaders beat Chiefs 31-24 in Super Rugby thriller

SUVA, Fiji (AP) — The Crusaders overcame a halftime deficit to beat the Chiefs 31-24 in a thrilling Super Rugby match which extended their winning start to the season to a club- and tournament-record 12 games in the Fiji capital on Friday.

The Hamilton-based Chiefs, who have beaten the Christchurch-based Crusaders at their last four meetings, led 17-13 after a fast-paced first half but the Crusaders gained control in the second spell and cemented their 12-0 record with tries to fullback David Havili and replacement hooker Ben Funnell.

Havili's was one of two tries by the Crusaders — who were outscored four tries to three — which was contentious and which left the Chiefs aggrieved that most marginal calls in the match went against them.

The Havili try appeared to come from a forward pass from the Crusaders' Fiji-born winger Seta Tamanivalu while a first-half try to flanker Heiden Bedwell-Curtis came from an obstruction which the television match official ruled as inconsequential.

The Crusaders were also helped to victory by a superb performance from flyhalf Richie Mo'unga, who made a series of line breaks, including one which led to Funnell's try, and who kicked six goals from seven attempts.

Mo'unga's fourth and final penalty in the 75th minute gave the Crusaders their seven-point margin. The Crusaders defended superbly when the Chiefs had two attacking lineouts from penalties in the last three minutes, on both occasions winning the ball against the throw.

The Crusaders lost flanker Matt Todd to concussion shortly before the match and then All Blacks center Ryan Crotty, who failed a concussion test early in the first half. The Chiefs also lost center Sam McNicol and then his replacement, former All Blacks flyhalf Stephen Donald, to failed concussion tests.

The Crusaders responded best to those setbacks and were able to perform consistently well under pressure.

"The way the whole squad has stepped up this year has been unreal," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said. "It doesn't matter if guys haven't been in the team and get called in late or if they've been starting every week, the belief is there and it's great the boys are working with each other.

"We knew we had to have some patience, especially on defense. Early on they opened us up a couple of times because because we were trying too much but when we got our composure it felt really good."