The Chiefs kept pace at the top of the Vodacom Super Rugby log with a 35-27 bonus-point win over the 14-man Force in Hamilton on Friday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
The match was effectively over as a contest after a moment of madness from Force scrumhalf Ian Prior saw the visitors reduced to 14 men in the 28th minute for a tip-tackle on Tim Nanai-Williams.
The Chiefs may have got what they required from the match, but will be disappointed in their defensive display, conceding four tries despite playing nearly three-quarters of the match with a numerical advantage.
The Force deserve great credit, though, for the way they fought their way back into the match, even after trailing 30-8 midway through the second half.
The visitors had started strongly, and worked an overlap on the right for Angus Cottrell to go over for the first try of the match, but were always going to find it difficult against an in-form Chiefs side.
It did not take long for the Chiefs to respond through a try of the highest quality. The returning Charlie Ngatai finished off a sweeping move to race under the posts for a fine score.
It was exhibition rugby from the hosts, with multiple runners hitting the line at pace, leaving the Force defence grasping at thin air, resulting in 12 missed tackles during the first half alone.
Only some last-ditch defending prevented Nanai-Williams and Ngatai from extending the Chiefs' lead, but there was no stopping Hika Elliot as he rumbled over from the back of a rolling maul after a period of sustained pressure. McKenzie added the extras to give the Chiefs a handy 23-8 lead at half-time.
The Chiefs continued the onslaught at the start of the second half and were awarded a penalty try for their complete and utter domination at the scrums.
The Force would not lie down, though, and tries from Luke Morahan and captain Matt Hodgson brought them to within eight points with just under 20 minutes remaining.
However, a brilliant individual effort from Nanai-Williams sealed the bonus-point victory for the Chiefs, condemning the Force to their ninth consecutive defeat, and ensuring the pressure remains firmly on the Hurricanes at the top of the standings.
Chiefs – Tries: Charlie Ngatai, Hika Elliot, penalty try, Tim Nanai-Williams. Conversions: Marty McKenzie (3). Penalties: Marty McKenzie (3).
Force – Tries: Angus Cottrell, Luke Morahan, Matt Hodgson, Heath Tessmann. Conversions: Luke Burton (2). Penalty: Burton.
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Johan Bardoul, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons (c), 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Ben Tameifuna, 19 Mike Fitzgerald, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Andrew Horrell.
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Luke Burton, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Junior Rasolea, 23 Marcel Brache.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images