Four tries from Asaeli Tikoirotuma helped the Chiefs to a thrilling 41-34 Super Rugby win over a determined Blues outfit on Saturday.
Four tries from wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma helped the Chiefs to a thrilling 41-34 Super Rugby win over a determined Blues outfit on Saturday.
In arguably the game of the season thus far, the Chiefs outscored their hosts five tries to four that keeps them top of the tournament standings as we head into the June break.
But it so nearly ended with a draw as the never-say-die Blues managed to level the scores 34-34 with ten minutes left to play in North Harbour, until Tikoirotuma restored the Chiefs' seven-point buffer with his fourth touchdown of the match.
The win lifts the Chiefs to 58 points, keeping them seven points clear of the in-form Crusaders on the New Zealand conference standings, while the Blues suffered their 12th defeat from 14 matches.
Unfortunately, the match was punctuated by three yellow cards – two in quick succession in the first half to Blues flanker Steven Luatua and Chiefs winger Maritino Nemani for tip tackles, while Chiefs lock Michael Fitzgerald was binned in the second spell for punching.
For most of the game, the Chiefs led and the Blues responded.
The Blues led for only a short period between the 12th and 15th minutes of the first half when a try to center Francis Saili gave his side a 7-3 lead.
Tikoirotuma's first try in the 15th minute gave the Chiefs a 10-7 advantage and they held that lead to the end, though it was constantly under siege from the determined Blues who were galvanized by the return of Rene Ranger and Rudi Wulf.
The Chiefs opened a 20-10 lead after 31 minutes when Williams crashed through tight defence to score his third try of the season.
But the Blues showed the spirit that prevailed throughout the match when they struck back with a try, conversion and penalty to winger Lachie Munro to level the scores 20-20 by half-time.
The Chiefs drew away again with Tikoirorutam's second try and led 34-20 – their widest margin – when Fijian-born Tikoirotuma completed his hat-trick in the 55th minute.
But again the visitors rallied and refused to accept another loss in what has been a dismal season.
When Fitzgerald was sin-binned after a fracas with an opponent, the Blues took advantage of their numerical advantage and scored tries through Wulf and Ranger to tie the scores at 34-34.
Ranger's try was one for the highlights reel – an outstanding feat of pace and athleticism which left in his wake a long string of attempted tacklers.
But the Chiefs also showed spirit and they refused to give up hope of the victory that cemented their top placing in the tournament.
Robbie Robinson put in a perfectly weighted kick for Tikoirotuma in the 70th minute and the winger won the race to the ball to seal the match.
Tries: Munro, Saili, Wulf, Ranger
Cons: Munro 4
Pens: Munro 2
Tries: Tikoirotuma 4, Williams
Cons: Cruden 5
Pens: Cruden 2
Yellow cards: Steven Luatua (33 mins – dangerous tackle) Maritino Nemani (34 mins – dangerous tackle), Michael Fitzgerald (60 mins – foul play)
Blues: 15 Rudi Wulf, 14 Lachie Munro, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Luke Braid (c), 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Filo Paulo, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Hadleigh Parkes, 22 David Raikuna.
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Maritino Nemani, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Romana Graham, 19 Scott Waldrom, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Tim Nanai-Williams, 22 Lelia Masaga.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)