A late try from skipper Sam Cane has sealed a hard-earned 27-21 Super Rugby win for the Chiefs over the Crusaders.
The All Blacks’ flanker scored off a lineout drive with three minutes to go before the Chiefs held off one final charge by the home side.
The match in Christchurch on Saturday night, the Crusaders’ first of the post-Richie McCaw and Dan Carter era, had looked on paper that it would be a tight, tough battle and so it proved.
The Chiefs scored four tries, one of them to fullback Damian McKenzie, who produced a lively display.
McKenzie also created a try, banged over a long-range penalty to get the visitors on the board and pulled off a try-saving tackle on big winger Nemani Nadolo.
Two penalties from rookie five-eighth Richie Mo’unga gave the Crusaders the early lead.
For Mo’unga’s experienced opposite number Aaron Cruden, the match was his first competitive outing since last April when he suffered a knee injury against the same opponents and at the same ground.
The All Blacks’ pivot looked hungry and he was involved in an early push-and-shove with opposition halfback Andy Ellis which had others rushing in.
He produced a searing break from which the Chiefs scored their first points through a McKenzie penalty.
McKenzie then turned creator with a deep cross-kick.
The ball was fielded by opposition fullback David Havili, who was stripped of it by young winger Shaun Stevenson, who marked his debut with a try.
The night was to end in disappointing manner for the 19-year-old Stevenson, who went off early in the second spell with a shoulder injury.
In the shadow of halftime, the Crusaders went back in front in dominant fashion.
Their pack produced a huge eight-man shove on a defensive Chiefs scrum, winning the ball to send Mo’unga over.
In a seesawing battle, powerful centre Seta Tamanivalu touched down to helped the Chiefs back in front early in the second spell.
The lead lasted a matter of minutes before Havili scored, his forwards again instrumental with a big lineout drive.
McKenzie then scored the Chiefs’ third try and edged them back ahead with the conversion with 13 minutes to go.