The Chiefs opened their defense of their back-to-back Super Rugby titles with an 18-10 win over seven-time champions the Crusaders on Friday in the first match of the season in the New Zealand conference.
Replacement fullback James Lowe galloped away for a 75-metre intercept try in the final minute to clinch the win for the Chiefs and flyhalf Aaron Cruden added a sideline conversion which denied the Crusaders even a consolation bonus point.
Center Robbie Fruean, who transferred from the Crusaders to the Chiefs between seasons, opened the scoring with a ninth-minute try which helped the Chiefs to an early 11-0 lead. They protected that advantage under exceptional pressure for the remainder of the match.
The Crusaders closed to 11-10 with seven minutes remaining and were pressing the Chiefs line when Lowe pounced on the pass near the right-hand touchline and dashed away to score his first Super Rugby try.
Cruden's conversion capped an outstanding victory for the Chiefs who were without many first-string players, suffered more injuries during the match, yet beat the team favored to win the New Zealand conference.
Fruean's try gave the Chiefs an early boost. The powerful center, whose career has been dogged by a heart ailment caused by rheumatic fever, finished a movement which began on the Chiefs' 22 when he brushed off three tacklers, including the New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, to score wide out.
Cruden kicked a goal in the 39th which gave the Chiefs an 8-0 lead at halftime, while Crusaders flyhalf Tyler Bleyendaal missed five straight shots at goal before being replaced.
The Crusaders' only try came in the 48th when lock Sam Whitelock burst through a poorly defended lineout.
Tom Taylor, who replaced Bleyendaal, landed his first shot at goal by converting the try, but missed two more attempts before kicking the 73rd-minute penalty which cut the Chiefs' lead to one point.
Both teams had a player sin-binned in the first half and the Chiefs were hard-hit when prop Ben Tamiefuna and lock Brodie Retallick were forced from the field in the second half after a head clash.
Tries: Fruean, Lowe.
Penalties: Cruden 2.