The Chiefs fired late to win 23-16 in Hamilton on Saturday and hand the Blues their seventh successive defeat. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Blues will lament yet another missed opportunity. They had the Chiefs on the ropes for much of the contest at the Waikato Stadium. They had a terrific chance to end their winless run in 2015, and to break an eight-game losing streak against the Chiefs.
But in the end, one play highlighted the gulf in class between these two New Zealand teams. The Blues played with passion and intensity, but struggled to finish. The Chiefs were not at their best, but still managed to score a long-range try in the 69th minute that effectively secured the result.
The Blues bossed the scrums and lineouts, and it was from the former set piece that Jerome Kaino scored the visitors' only try. They were less convincing at the breakdowns, and lost a lot of ball on attack.
They will regret that one turnover that led to a sweeping counter-attack from a dangerous Chiefs side. Forwards and backs were prominent in the buildup, doing well to keep the ball alive. Tom Marshall eventually rounded the move off when he beat his man from a few metres out.
Aaron Cruden started the game poorly from a goal-kicking perspective, missing two penalty attempts. The All Blacks flyhalf would come back strongly in the second half, and the conversion of Marshall's try was an important one as it took the Chiefs out to a seven-point lead. A subsequent penalty gave the hosts some breathing room at 23-13.
The Blues continued to fight on in the dying minutes, and won a penalty right on full-time. The three-pointer by Ihaia West earned the Blues a consolatory bonus point, and yet, there will be no reason to celebrate.
A more clinical performance at the breakdown would have banked the Blues a morale-boosting win. As it stands, they have now lost seven in a row, and are rooted to the bottom of the combined Vodacom Super Rugby log.
Chiefs – Tries: James Lowe, Tom Marshall. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (2). Penalties: Cruden (3).
Blues – Try: Jerome Kaino. Conversion: Dan Bowden. Penalties: Bowden (2), Ihaia West.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Pauliasi Manu, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Seta Tamanivalu, 23 Bryce Heem.
Blues – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 George Moala, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Dan Bowden, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jerome Kaino (c), 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina/Angus Ta'avao, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Luke Braid, 21 Jimmy Cowan, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Francis Saili.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images