James Lowe scored a brace as the Chiefs claimed a 48-23 bonus-point win against the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The result marks the Chiefs' first win in Canberra in eight years. It sees Dave Rennie's men consolidating their position at the top of the New Zealand conference and Australasian group logs.
The performance, as well as the result, was a statement in the context of the 2016 Super Rugby race.
The game was billed as an almighty clash between the two tournament favourites. Much was made about the Chiefs' competition-leading attacking stats as well as the fact that the Brumbies were the best defensive unit after five rounds.
On the night, it was the Chiefs who dominated on both attack and defence. They put six tries and nearly 50 points past a Brumbies team that doesn't concede too many at home. They defended exceptionally well to restrict the Brumbies and create many a counter-attacking opportunity.
The Brumbies may feel that the scoreline does not reflect their efforts. The hosts bossed the scrums. They were competitive at the breakdowns, with David Pocock and Scott Fardy contributing strongly in this area.
And yet they struggled to control the pace and flow of the game. The Brumbies were outplayed by the Chiefs at the collisions. They battled to deal with the kicking game of the visitors, who created all sorts of problems with their well executed high kicks and nudges into space.
The Chiefs pack made a statement against the much fancied Brumbies forwards. That said, the Chiefs backs made their chances count.
The kick chase was exceptional, as was the contesting in the air. Once the initial break had been made, the likes of Lowe, Toni Pulu and the irrepressible Damian McKenzie ensured that the opportunity was converted into points.
The first half was an arm-wrestle. It was only in the latter stages when the Chiefs began to stamp their authority on proceedings. Flank Tom Sanders scored in injury time to take the visitors to a 20-13 lead.
Thereafter, the Chiefs moved up a gear. The accurate goal-kicking of McKenzie allowed them to establish a 10- and then a 13-point buffer. The Chiefs kept the Brumbies pinned in their own half, and continued to pressure them at the breakdowns and through a series of well placed kicks.
The Brumbies enjoyed a brief resurgence, and were still in the contest at 29-23 as the game headed into the final quarter. However, it was in this period where they showed signs of fatigue, which was unsurprising given they had just returned from a gruelling two-match tour of South Africa.
Lowe scored his second try of the evening to help stretch the visitors' lead to 13 points. He created another when he chipped over the Brumbies defence and regathered. A slick interaction between the Chiefs backs culminated in a try for scrumhalf Brad Weber.
Fittingly, it was McKenzie who had the final say. The fullback scored his seventh try of the 2016 season on the stroke of full-time. The subsequent conversion took his personal tally for the game to 23 points.
Brumbies – Tries: Scott Sio, Scott Fardy. Conversions: Christian Leali'ifano (2). Penalties: Leali'ifano (3).
Chiefs – Tries: Toni Pulu, James Lowe (2), Tom Sanders, Brad Weber, Damian McKenzie. Conversions: McKenzie (3). Penalties: McKenzie (4).
Brumbies – 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Christian Leali'ifano (c), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Jordan Smiler, 21 Joe Powell, 22 James Dargaville, 23 Nigel Ah Wong.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Taleni Seu, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 19 James Tucker, 20 Maama Vaipulu, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Seta Tamanivalu, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images