Damian McKenzie scored 17 points in the Chiefs' hard-earned 27-20 win over the Sunwolves in Hamilton on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Sunwolves were competitive for much of the game. The visitors succeeded in pressuring the Chiefs at the scrum and dominating the hosts at the lineout. On the back of that performance, they enjoyed a lot of quality front-foot ball.
Ultimately, the Sunwolves emerged from the clash with a deserved losing bonus point. The Chiefs, who didn't play particularly well on the night, had to be content with a win.
McKenzie converted his own try on the stroke of half-time to steer his side to a 20-3 lead. The Sunwolves hit back straight after the break, though, through a try by scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka.
The Sunwolves would have reduced the deficit further if replacement flyhalf Yu Tamura had taken his chances in front of goal. As it was, Tamura missed two penalty attempts from right in front, and the Sunwolves continued to trail by 10 points.
A magic pass by James Lowe unleased McKenzie down the left-hand touchline in the 60th minute. The Chiefs fullback employed his pace, and then his unique evasion skills to cross the tryline for the second time. McKenzie's successful conversion took the hosts to a commanding 27-10 lead.
The Sunwolves refused to give up. Derek Carpenter scored a try in the 66th minute. Jamie-Jerry Taulagi kicked the conversion and then a penalty in the 74th minute to bring the Sunwolves within seven points of the Chiefs.
The hosts endeavoured to finish the match with a bonus point. Aaron Cruden obliged with a pinpoint cross-kick to Shaun Stevenson, who finished in spectacular fashion. The try was disallowed, however, after the TMO spotted a knock-on by the Chiefs in a preceding phase.
The Chiefs enjoyed several more chances to score in the dying moments. They had a two-man advantage after Carpenter was yellow-carded and Taulagi was shown red for foul play. The Sunwolves defence managed to hold out, though, and claim a losing bonus point.
Chiefs – Tries: Hika Elliot, Solomon Alaimalo, Damian McKenzie (2). Conversions: McKenzie (2). Penalty: McKenzie.
Sunwolves – Tries: Fumiaki Tanaka, Derek Carpenter. Conversions: Hayden Cripps, Jamie-Jerry Taulagi. Penalties: Cripps, Taulagi.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Solomon Alaimalo, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 Sam McNicol, 10 Aaron Cruden (c-c), 9 Jonathan Taumateine, 8 Sam Cane (c-c), 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Taleni Seu, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Mitchell Brown, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Alex Nankivell, 22 Shaun Stevenson, 23 James Lowe.
Sunwolves – 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Teruya Goto, 13 William Tupou, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Yasutaka Sasakura, 10 Hayden Cripps, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Shunsuki Nunomaki, 6 Edward Quirk (c), 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Shinya Makabe, 3 Heiichiro Ito, 2 Takeshi Kizu, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Koki Yamamoto, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 21 Yuki Yatomi, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images