The Crusaders' big-time temperament lifted them to a 28-21 win over competition leaders the Chiefs in Friday's Super Rugby match at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.

Pipped 23-22 last week by the Hurricanes, the Crusaders had to win to keep their play-off hopes alive. They were boosted by the return of All Blacks Daniel Carter, Israel Dagg and Kieran Read, who made an immediate difference.

The Crusaders built momentum through multiple phases before Read hit the line at pace to burst through and touchdown after 10 minutes.

Carter's boot added the conversion to an earlier penalty to give the Crusaders a 10-3 lead, then the five-eighth snapped a dropped goal five minutes later to make it 13-6.

With skipper Craig Clarke a late scratching, the Chiefs lacked their usual accuracy at the lineout and were punished for a series of basics errors inside the first 20 minutes.

With the Crusaders' scrum in control, the visitors continued to generate front-foot ball and scored again in the 20th minute after lock Luke Romano dived over onto halfback Andy Ellis's well-weighted grubber.

But the Chiefs gradually battled back, finally managing to break the Crusaders line as the half-hour mark neared when 2.04m long-reaching lock Brodie Retallick latched onto Tawera Kerr-Barlow's beautifully timed pass five metres out.

Cruden added the extras and another penalty as halftime neared to cut back the Crusaders lead to 20-16 at halftime.

Ellis extended the lead 10 minutes into the restart when the TMO ruled he had been shunted over for the Crusaders' third try, but it only took the Chiefs four minutes to respond.

Kerr-Barlow made the initial break from a turnover before Sonny Bill Williams showed superb strength in the tackle to touch down and narrow the gap to four.

A 62nd minute Carter penalty stretched it back out to seven, but the Crusaders' defence was tested to the limit for the rest of the match.

South Africa's Stormers now have the chance to move into first place if they can take a bonus-point win from their weekend match against the Cheetahs.

NZ Newswire

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