Chiefs edge past Sharks

Date published: April 29 2016

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Super Rugby leaders the Chiefs made it eight wins out of nine this season but had far from an easy ride in their 24-22 win over the Sharks in New Plymouth on Friday.

Seta Tamanivalu's score in the first minute hinted at a one-sided thrashing but the Sharks held their nerve, fighting back to go in level at half-time and then holding the Chiefs more or less within arm's length until the end.

Aaron Cruden's goalkicking proved to be key, landing five out of seven kicks, as the Sharks surprisingly outscored their hosts by three tries to two.

If only they played with the ball in hand more often, because the Sharks proved they're capable of troubling defences when they veer away from trying to kick everything out of hand.

A closer contest than most would have expected pointed to perhaps a dip in form for the Chiefs and improvements from the Sharks, who look to have a real talent at fly-half in the shape of Garth April.

The Chiefs, after a one-point win last week over the Hurricanes and now a two-point win over the Sharks, remain top of the table.

Tamanivalu ripped through some lax defence with the first real opportunity to cross by the posts, suggesting that the Sharks in for a long night in Taranaki.

April steadied the ship with a penalty but the Sharks kicking game continued to supply the Chiefs with good field position to take the game to the visitors.

Cruden instantly replied off the tee with his first penalty and after Michael Leitch's try in the corner the Chiefs looked well in control.

It was Cruden who supplied the crucial pass, his looping ball over the top of the Sharks defence finding the Japan captain out by the touchline as he did well to collect the ball in the air before grounding it infield. No conversion came from Cruden but the Chiefs looked comfortable at 15-3. 

Credit therefore has to go to the Sharks for their response, because most sides this season have crumbled when faced with a double-digit deficit against the in-form Chiefs.

Turning to the power of their maul the Sharks won a penalty within kicking range, but instead went to the corner where Cooper finished off an efficent rolling maul for the Sharks' first try.

April stepped up for the conversion before the youngster made a bigger impact on the match, a fine solo try from the 24-year-old showing off his footwork and speed as he did enough to hold off the Chiefs defence to score. Unable to convert from out wide, the scores were tied at 15-15 going into half-time.

Unfortunately for the Chiefs they lost the dangerous Tamanivalu to injury, replaced by Andrew Horrell, but the Chiefs never lack for firepower.

Chances weren't in short supply for the hosts, as soft hands from McKenzie set up a break for Anton Lienert-Brown which went unrewarded, but Cruden restored the lead with a second penalty after Cooper was penalised for offside.

Cruden couldn't convert another attempt not long after following a mazy McKenzie run, with the Chiefs beginning to look in control again even if the scoreboard said otherwise at 18-15.

A third penalty from the All Blacks fly-half followed as the Sharks failed to gain the territory required to keep the Chiefs at bay, a magical kick and chase from Brad Weber putting him in a footrace with Willie le Roux which the Springbok won, but only by carrying the ball over his own line.

Continually the Sharks defence coughed up penalties under huge pressure from the hosts, Cruden landing his fourth penalty with ten minutes to go to make it 24-15.

Now the Sharks, one of the lowest try scorers in the competition, had to score two in order to turn the result their way and grabbed one from that trusty rolling maul, Cooper's replacement Chiliboy Ralepelle this time the one to score as April's conversion cut the gap to two points at 24-22.

But they couldn't complete the comeback, with the Chiefs opting to keep the ball in hand inside the Sharks' 22 in the closing minutes to wind down the clock and pick up yet another win.

The scorers:

For Chiefs:
Tries: Tamanivalu, Leitch
Con: Cruden
Pens: Cruden 4

For Sharks:
Tries: Cooper, April, Ralepelle
Cons: April 2
Pen: April

Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Sam McNicol, 10 Aaron Cruden (cc), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Kane Hames, 19 James Tucker, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Shaun Stevenson

Sharks: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Joe Pietersen, 23 Odwa Ndungane

Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant Referees: Jamie Nutbrown, Angus Mabey
TMO: Glenn Newman

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