The Chiefs returned to the top of the New Zealand conference on Saturday thanks to a 37-29 win over the Sharks at Waikato Stadium.
The Chiefs returned to the top of the New Zealand Super Rugby conference on Saturday thanks to a 37-29 win over the Sharks at Waikato Stadium.
In a ding-dong battle that featured four-try bonus points for both teams and saw momentum swing from one side to the other, the Sharks were ultimately unable to recover from a dreadful start.
The rematch of last year's final quickly turned into a nightmare for the Sharks as the Chiefs raced to a 24-0 lead inside the first quarter.
Quick-fire early tries from Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Bundee Aki and Tim Nanai-Williams looked to have settled the result but the Sharks fought back via two tries from Derick Minnie and another from Lubabalo Mtembu to leave the scores at 24-19 at the interval.
Nanai-Williams scored again after the break but once again the Chiefs saw their visitors reply, this time through Keegan Daniel, to stay in the hunt going to the final quarter.
However a penalty after the final hooter denied the Sharks a second bonus point.
There was a late change for the Chiefs – as Bundee Aki started at inside centre due to a hamstring problem for Richard Kahui.
It didn't disrupt the hosts much though has they made the Sharks pay for some poor tackling and sloppy handling. Tikoirotuma and Aki's tries came from well worked moves off set pieces and Nanai-Williams scooped up a dropped ball and sprinted home from 50 metres out.
The Sharks turned to their massive pack to mount a huge comeback that started with Minnie's first try off a rolling maul.
Pat Lambie stepped past Aaron Cruden before offloading to Mtembu, who scored his first Super Rugby try following an attacking scrum.
Minnie added his second, again from an attacking line-out and rolling maul, just before half-time to reduce the deficit to just five points at the break.
Nanai-Williams collected Cruden's chip ahead soon after the restart to bag his brace and pull the Chiefs clear again as Gareth Anscombe's conversion and a penalty left the scores at 34-19
The visitors again stormed back with Daniel bolting down the touchline to score after superb handling from Wiehahn Herbst.
Lambie added his first penalty with two minutes remaining to move within seven points but Frans Steyn conceded a penalty on deck just as the hooter sounded, allowing Cruden an easy kick to leave the Sharks with just one point.
Tries: Tikoirotuma, Aki, Nanai-Williams 2
Cons: Anscombe 4
Pens: Anscombe 2, Cruden
Tries: Minnie 2, Mtembu, Daniel
Cons: Lambie 3
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Nick Crosswell, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Michael Kainga, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Robbie Robinson , 22 Charlie Ngatai.
Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Francois Steyn, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Piet Lindeque, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Jean Deysel (c), 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Wiehahn Herbst.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Franco van der Merwe, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 S'bura Sithole.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Television match official: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)