Aaron Cruden led the Chiefs to a 41-26 bonus point win over the Blues after flanker Steven Luatua was red carded in Hamilton on Friday.
It was a competitive game throughout the first with the Blues and the Chiefs exchanging exciting runs, and the Blues should have had a greater tally before the red card but fly-half Ihaia West failed to get the ball though the uprights on a number of occasions.
The Chiefs had the advantage on the scoreboard after two tries from Liam Messam and Damian McKenzie in the first stanza but Luatua’s red card right before the break looked as though it had already sealed the victory.
The Chiefs now jump to top of the table with the bonus-point win, with the rest of the New Zealand Conference still to play. The Blues are still tied for second with the Hurricanes in the same conference after their bonus point win last week.
Cruden had a near-perfect game as he kicked over 11 points to add to his side’s tally while contributing three try assists in his side’s six-try romp of the 14-man Blues.
The Blues were on the scoreboard first when West nailed a three-pointer after his side were awarded two penalties in a row and originally went for the lineout, but after a cross kick went awry they used their next opportunity to get the three points.
The home side replied quickly though as the Chiefs were given a penalty and kicked for touch. They used their lineout drive well and rumbled over the line for Messam to score. Cruden missed the extras, which proved costly moments later as West slotted another three-pointer and retook the lead making the score 6-5 to the Blues.
West kept the scoreboard ticking with another penalty from 40 metres out which looked uncharacteristic from a Blues side that loves to the run the ball, but the decision worked for them as they extended their lead.
The Blues didn’t get to hang onto their lead though as minutes later the Chiefs started an electric break from the halfway line, with Tim Nanai-Williams using his quick feet to dance around the opposition before giving it wide to the mercurial McKenzie who scored in the corner. Cruden found some kicking form later in the half after adding another five points to his side through the conversion and a penalty.
West was given another opportunity to kick for goal in the 32nd minute but it hit the posts, with the Chiefs kicking for touch and the Blues once again getting a penalty, the Chiefs’ discipline proving to be a problem for the Hamilton men.
Number eight Michael Leitch proved to be the culprit on two occasions after being caught not rolling away at the ruck. Luckily for the Japanese international, West missed on both occasions.
The Chiefs almost scored a try before the half-time hooter went when scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow took the ball from the back of the ruck right up to the Blues line, before throwing a sneaky dummy which opened up a the smallest of gaps allowing the number nine to skip through and run 40 metres, but unfortunately for the number nine knocked it on just before touching down.
It wasn’t the relief the Blues were looking for however as the TMO went back to check a late, high hit from Luatua on Cruden, which the TMO deemed was a red card offence and the All Black was sent off for the rest of the match.
Moments later the Chiefs used the lack of men on the field to start a maul from the lineout and hooker Hika Elliot scored his side’s third try off the back of it. His try, coupled with Cruden’s conversion took the Chiefs to a 22-9 lead at half time.
The Chiefs scored minutes into the second half after they used their one-man advantage ruthlessly as they bossed their opponents, who came out of the change rooms looking shell shocked.
Anton Lienert-Brown almost scored – it was called back for a forward pass – but the Chiefs were given another opportunity when they used their advantage in a maul for the excellent Lachlan Boshier to drive over. The Chiefs were well into bonus-point territory now.
James Lowe then added to the Blues’ woes when they used a 22-metre lineout and spread it wide, Johnny Faauli popping the ball to Cruden who saw the pressure was coming quickly and slapped it inside to Lowe for the try in to make the score 36-9 after the conversion at 50 minutes.
Cruden kick-started another a try this time through Lienert-Brown after the Chiefs ran the Blues ragged through some forward dominance before swinging the ball wide to Cruden who sucked in the defence and gave it short to the outside centre to score.
The Blues never know when they’re beaten though, as replacement lock Patrick Tuipulotu barged over the whitewash for his side’s first try of the game. Ten minutes later, desperate to deny the opposition the bonus point, Charlie Faumuina also scored and closed the gap with West finally nailing a kick.
After Blues coach Tana Umaga threw his bench onto the field, Rene Ranger’s presence on the field was bound to equate into points at some stage. Which it did after the Blues pressured the Chiefs defence with some barnstorming runs before they swung it wide to Ranger, who was all by himself on the wing with plenty of space and before dotting down, threw his body weight into a Chiefs defender, to repel him.
It was too little too late though, as the game ended 41-26.
Tries: Messam, McKenzie, Elliot, Boshier, Lowe, Lienert-Brown
Cons: Cruden 4
Tries: Tuipulotu, Faumuina, Ranger
Pens: West 3
Red Card: Luatua
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Toni Pulu, 23 Shaun Stevenson
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Jimmy Tupou (c), 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 Matt Moulds, 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Jerome Kaino, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 George Moala, 23 Rene Ranger
Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)