The defending champion Chiefs secured their place in the play-offs with an 11-8 win over the Blues at a wet Eden Park on Friday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
The game was played out in atrocious conditions attributing to what was a lacklustre game of rugby. The manner of victory won't bother the Chiefs though, as they kept their treble dreams alive with a gutsy performance against a fired-up Blues team. For the hosts, the 39-point winning margin they required was always going to be a bridge too far and in the end their quest to score tries only hampered their chances of victory.
The Blues spent the first 12 minutes of the match camped deep in the Chiefs' half, but were unable to find a way through the visitor's stubborn defence. They won numerous penalties, but instead of opting to build scoreboard pressure they went straight for the jugular.
Aaron Cruden gave the Chiefs the lead with a penalty after 24 minutes before Ma'a Nonu saw yellow for a customary late shoulder charge in the closing stages of an attritional first half.
The hosts changed tact at the start of the second half, opting instead to go for the points on offer. Ihaia West brought them level before throwing an intercept pass for Liam Messam to canter away for a vital try.
The Blues came on strong in the final stages after Chiefs lock Luke Fitzgerald was sent to the sin bin. From the resulting scrum, replacement wing George Moala went over in the corner to set up a grandstand finish. It was not to be, though, as the Chiefs' defence stood firm to lift them into fourth spot on the log and guarantee them a place in the wildcard round.
Blues – Try: George Moala. Penalty: Ihaia West.
Chiefs – Try: Liam Messam. Penalties: Aaron Cruden (2).
Blues – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Lolagi Visinia, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Sam Pratley.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Peter Saili, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Jackson Willison, 23 George Moala.
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Nick Barrett, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Dwayne Sweeney.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images