The Chiefs fired in the second half to claim a 29-23 bonus-point victory over the Blues in Hamilton on Friday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Last week, the Chiefs could do no wrong. Their attack put six tries and nearly 50 points past the Brumbies. Their defence was excellent and their kicking game was precise.
On Friday in Hamilton, however, the Chiefs' performance lacked power and precision. Players dropped passes. Defenders missed routine one-on-one tackles. Fullback Damian McKenzie, the form player of the 2016 tournament, missed three conversion attempts.
The Chiefs were in front by 10-6 at half-time. The momentum shifted early in the second half, however, with the Blues scoring two quick tries and moving into a 20-10 lead.
The hosts responded almost immediately, with Aaron Cruden beating the defence and scoring in the left-hand corner. By the 56th minute, the Chiefs had reclaimed the lead thanks to a try by Seta Tamanivalu and a conversion by McKenzie.
That kick was significant. McKenzie had missed his first three goal attempts. He showed good composure to nail his fourth – from the touchline, no less – and steer his team into a 22-20 lead.
The Blues fought hard in the final quarter, but ultimately failed to keep the Chiefs out. Brodie Retallick crashed over for the hosts' fifth try in the 77th minute. The seven-pointer secured the result for the Chiefs, as well as the try-scoring bonus point.
Fittingly, the Blues did not leave Hamilton empty-handed. Two minutes into injury time, they were awarded a penalty deep in Chiefs territory. Ihaia West kicked the goal to reduce the deficit and claim a valuable losing bonus point for his side.
Chiefs – Tries: Mitchell Graham, Shaun Stevenson, Aaron Cruden, Seta Tamanivalu, Brodie Retallick. Conversions: Damian McKenzie (2).
Blues – Tries: Melani Nanai, Rieko Ioane. Conversions: Ihaia West (2). Penalties: West (3).
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Maama Vaipulu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Sam Henwood, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Sam McNicol.
Blues – 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Rieko Ioane, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Hoani Matenga, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Namatahi Waa, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 George Moala.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images