The Chiefs overturned a 12-point deficit to thump the Vodacom Bulls 34-20 in Rotorua on Friday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Chiefs went into this game without a host of first-choice players. Fifteen minutes into the contest, they trailed the Bulls by 15-3. At that point, it seemed as if a rare Bulls win in Waikato was on the cards.
The Bulls played with power and precision in that opening quarter. They created a couple of try-scoring opportunities with their robust defence and accurate kicking game. The Chiefs lacked composure in the initial stages, and were punished to the tune of 15 points.
But the roles were reversed in the second quarter. Handré Pollard missed an important penalty goal that would have taken the Bulls more than two converted tries clear of the hosts.
The Bulls' forward effort, which had been so outstanding in the first 20 minutes, began to flag. The Bulls kicked the ball away aimlessly, and the fractured kick-chase invited the Chiefs to counter. The contest became loose, and it was here where the free-running, perpetually-offloading Chiefs players came into their own.
The hosts managed to level the scores before half-time. Indeed, they may have led at the break if not for several missed kicks at goal by Damian McKenzie.
But the Chiefs forwards maintained the pressure on their Bulls counterparts in the early stages of the second half. They not only overpowered the Bulls at the breakdown, but disrupted that famed Bulls lineout. As a result, set-piece legend Victor Matfield battled to influence this match.
The Bulls defended gamely for a period, and secured some timely turnovers. However, their poor kicking, and ultimately their flawed exit plan, ensured that they spent far too much time in their own half.
The Chiefs persisted, and captain Liam Messam made a big call in the 54th minute to have a scrum when his side was awarded a penalty deep in Bulls territory. The call would prove inspired when a sustained period on attack culminated in a try for Augustine Pulu. The feisty scrumhalf grabbed his second four minutes later, and that score really took the game away from the Bulls.
Pulu and McKenzie enjoyed plenty of go-forward on attack throughout the contest. In the buildup to Pulu's second score, the latter player made a telling linebreak down the right-hand flank. Lock Ross Filipo, who had been called out of Super Rugby retirement because of the Chiefs' injury crisis, was on hand to keep the movement alive, and so nearly scored himself. The Chiefs still managed to control the play after Filipo was brought down, and Pulu sniped from close-range to finish.
The Bulls scored a try via the lineout drive in the 74th minute. The try marked their first points since the 15th minute, and it was a case of too little, too late.
It also didn't help when Pollard missed a difficult conversion attempt to leave the Bulls trailing by nine points with only six minutes remaining. It cost the Bulls in the context of this game. It also cost them in the context of their campaign, as they finished the contest without a losing bonus point.
The Chiefs were operating with 14 men at that stage, as Sam Cane had been sent to the sin bin for a cynical infringement. However, the hosts still managed to finish strongly, with Tim Nanai Williams crossing for the Chiefs' fifth try.
The Bulls have completed their two-game tour of New Zealand, and have just one log point to show for their efforts. The result in Rotorua sees their rotten run in Australasia extended to nine consecutive defeats.
Inconsistency cost them in Auckland last week, and it was again an inability to maintain their effort over a period of 80 minutes that cost them in Rotorua. They have failed to make the most of two great opportunities, and as a result, they will struggle to finish at the top of the South African conference.
Chiefs – Tries: Liam Messam, Bryce Heem, Augustine Pulu (2), Tim Nanai Williams. Conversions: Damian McKenzie (3). Penalty: McKenzie.
Bulls – Tries: Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Lappies Labuschagne. Conversion: Handré Pollard. Penalty: Pollard.
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Bryce Heem, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Johan Bardoul, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Pauliasi Manu, 19 Brian Alainu'uese, 20 Maama Vaipulu, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Tim Nanai-Williams.
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van de Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Lappies Labuschagné, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Burger Odendaal, 23 Travis Ismaiel.
Photo: Joel Ford/Getty Images