The Chiefs continued their march towards a Super 14 semi-final thanks to a pulsating 32-20 victory over the Reds on Saturday.
The Chiefs continued their march towards a Super 14 semi-final thanks to a pulsating 32-20 victory over the Reds in New Zealand on Saturday, a result that temporarily takes them up to second in the standings.
Both sides threw caution to the wind and played an exciting brand of rugby full of enterprise and endeavour, yet ultimately it was the first half that was the difference between the two sides.
Ten minutes into a free-flowing game it looked as if the writing was on the wall, two converted tries giving the hosts a perfect start. Yet had the Reds been more clinical they would have been back in business – but a mixture of poor discipline and a lack of composure cost them dear.
With a glut of possession and field position to boot, the Reds conspired to waste three great chances and only had a Berrick Barnes drop-goal to show for their efforts after 30 minutes of action. Their efforts were epitomised by Barnes's wasted penalty kick to the corner: looking to peel off an extra metre or two, he only succeeded in sending it five metres past the corner flag.
Stephen Donald gave the hosts the dream start, a clever chip over the top of a flat Reds' defensive line saw him claim and cruise in under the posts for a converted try. And it was Donald who created the second try moments later. His vision sent Richard Kahui into space down the right before Lelia Masaga took the final pass to extend the hosts' lead.
Masaga added his second just before half-time, again created by Donald, and the Chiefs looked to be home and dry. However the Reds came out after the break a new team and hit their hosts with a three-try blitz that almost turned the game.
Morgan Turinui, who scored two of the three tries, was instrumental in the fightback, as was second-half replacement Digby Ioane. A sparkling attack from the Reds three minutes into the second half saw quick ball fired out to Turinui, who showed good pace to cruise outside Mils Muliaina and dot down in the corner.
Five minutes later and the Reds were right back in it. This time Barnes sliced through a lackadaisical defence and when the ball was moved wide Ioane had the simple task of dotting down to spark the revival.
A rattled Chiefs outfit tried to stem the flow of points against them, but when their rampant guests strung together one of the moves of the tournament they had no answer. Brimming full of confidence, the Reds opted to run turnover ball from deep inside their own 22 to devastating effect.
Some twenty passes and eight phases later, Turinui cut back against the flow to score under the posts for one of the tries of the season. All 15 players were involved and as Schifcofske tagged on the extras the Chiefs looked in disarray under the posts.
Not to be deterred by 17 unanswered points the Chiefs continued to play an attacking brand of rugby and were rewarded with three points from Donald's boot. His penalty seemed to calm their nerves and a renewed belief ensured they held the rampant Reds at bay for a prolonged period.
As the Reds pushed for their fourth try the Chiefs struck a killer blow – scoring a fourth try of their own. Quade Cooper was looking to free Turinui down the right but Sione Lauaki snapped up the pass to race away. Schifcofske and Horwill did their level best to prevent him from scoring, but the marauding number eight had too much power and crossed to secure the win.
It will be remembered as one of the games of the season and when all is said and done it could prove to be a vital five points for the Chiefs. The Reds showed they are an ever-improving side but Phil Mooney still has plenty to work on in the finishing department.
Man of the Match: David Croft and James Horwill were superb for the Reds, as was Digby Ioane when he came on. For the Chiefs Lelia Masaga was a constant threat and once again overshadowed his wing partner Sitiveni Sivivatu but it was Stephen Donald who stole the show. He created two tries, scored one himself and kicked with aplomb – an all round match-winning display.
Moment of the Match: It may seem an odd decision but the interval was a major factor. It gave the Reds, until then a shambles, a chance to re-group and they came close to winning it with a stunning fightback after the break.
Villain of the Match: It was not dangerous but it was uncalled for and intentional, and to that effect Clinton Schifcofske's shoulder barge on Masaga earned him this gong.
Tries: Donald, Masaga 2, Lauaki
Cons: Donald 3
Pens: Donald 2
Tries: Turinui 2, Ioane
Drop Goal: Barnes
Yellow Card: Schifcofske (Reds) – deliberate foul, 35.
Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Jamie Nutbrown, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Kevin O'Neill, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Ben Castle, 2 Tom Willis, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 Simon Lemalu, 18 Jay Williams, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 David Bason, 21 Callum Bruce, 22 Sosene Anesi.
Reds: 15 Clinton Schifcofske, 14 Brando Va'aulu, 13 Morgan Turinui, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Peter Hynes, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 David Croft, 6 John Roe, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Van Humphries, 3 Rodney Blake, 2 Stephen Moore, 2 Ben Coutts.
Replacements: 16 Sean Hardman, 17 Dayna Edwards, 18 Ed O'Donoghue, 19 Poutasi Luafutu, 20 Will Genia, 21 Charlie Fetoai, 22 Digby Ioane.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Touch judges: Deon vs Blommestein (South Africa), Paul Honiss (New Zealand)
Television match official: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Assessor: Alan Riley (New Zealand)