The Chiefs' title defence looks likely to end with a whimper after a 33-17 defeat to the Waratahs in New Plymouth, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Their opponents consolidated their position at the top of the Australian conference with another impressive showing, built on solid defence and finished by their silky backline.
The hosts were off the pace for most of the evening and were incapable of dealing with the Waratahs' defensive line speed and physicality, especially in the first half.
It was the Chiefs who opened the scoring, though, in just the second minute, but that would be the last points they would score in a poor first half.
Bernard Foley levelled things up before the Waratahs had a try ruled out for a penalty infringement. Following a similar call in the Crusaders match yesterday, Israel Folau was penalised for preventing Andrew Horrell from joining the defensive line. It was a welcome sight, and represents a change in approach from the referees in recent weeks.
The Waratahs did get their try, though, and it came out of the top drawer. They kept the ball alive for a number of phases, working the Chiefs across the field from side to side. It was left to Adam Ashley-Cooper to scythe through before freeing Israel Folau to go over and break the Waratahs' try-scoring record.
Foley added the extras before another penalty gave the Waratahs a 13-3 lead at half-time.
It was a different story at the outset of the second half, though, as the Waratahs' let their intensity slip, allowing the Chiefs back into the game.
The Chiefs hit the front in the 63rd minute after Bundee Aki grabbed two quick tries, both off the back of grubber kicks. It was a clear ploy to exploit the Waratahs' quick line speed and one that worked a charm.
But back the Waratahs came, reclaiming the lead with another Foley penalty before captain Dave Dennis went over in the corner following great work from Folau and Tatafu Polota Nau. Foley added the extras as the Waratahs opened up a nine-point gap with six minutes remaining. They extended that to 16 points with a try after the hooter, as they picked up their first win in New Zealand in nine attempts.
For the Chiefs, defeat left them languishing in eighth place, with the very real possibility of missing out on the play-offs altogether.
Chiefs – Tries: Bundee Akee (2). Conversions: Aaron Cruden (2). Penalty: Cruden (1).
Waratahs – Tries: Israel Folau, Dave Dennis, Bernard Foley. Conversions: Bernard Foley (3). Penalties: Foley (2), Kurtley Beale.
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Dwayne Sweeney, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Andrew Horrell, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Subs: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Mike Fitzgerald, 20 Tanerau Latimer, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Bundee Aki.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (c), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Sekope Kepu , 19 Will Skelton, 20 Stephen Hoiles, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Matt Carraro.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images