The Chiefs, showing greater strength and determination in everything they did, recorded a well-deserved 64-36 victory over the Western Force in a 14-try thriller in Hamilton on Saturday to keep alive their play-off hopes.
The Chiefs scored nine of those tries, with wing Roy Kinikinilau and replacement scrum-half Brendon Leonard both producing hat-tricks.
The win saw the Chiefs move into fourth place on the standings, even though a number of games remaining this weekend could see them drop a place or two as the round progresses. However, they have put themselves firmly back in the race.
It was a try fiesta in the Hamilton sunshine on Saturday afternoon - 15 tries in all, a rugby team of tries, a century of points.
Both were teams serious about their future chances in the Super 14 this year and yet both teams were almost equally lenient at tackle time. The Chiefs missed 21 tackles, the Force 20. But it did make for much entertainment and in the end it was probably the Chiefs pack that won the day as they exerted dominance over the weakened Force pack in all departments.
Then Byron Kelleher suffered a nose injury which looked like a break. This may just have worked to the Chiefs' benefit, which may seem odd. But the running of Brendon Leonard who combined so well with his No.8 - first Sione Lauaki and then Liam Messam - to give himself speed to show his running class. He got three tries, the first when the score was 17-1`5 and it counted, the second with a minute to go and the result was secure.
Powerful Roy Kinikinilau, once a forward, enjoyed his time on the wing, scoring a hat-trick of tries.
For the Force Matt Giteau was again a bagful of tricks and got two tries, the second almost entirely of his own making as he beat Simms Davison and then Jared Payne at a time when play seemed to be going nowhere. But the first may have been even better as he contrived, at close quarters, to score in strong Lauaki's tackle to put the Force 15-10 ahead.
The match started well for the Force as they had a plethora of possession and ran the Chiefs hither and thither. Their first try was an object lesson in calm as they gained quick possession from tackle after tackle and left room for Nathan Sharpe to dawdle across for the try. Giteau's conversion made it 7-3 after just four minutes. The try had been started when Ryan Cross won the kick-off after Stephen Donald's penalty goal.
The Force came back on the attack and then Cameron Shepherd threw a long, looping pass to his right which Kinikinilau intercepted and set off on the long journey to the posts. 10-7.
After Scott Fava had run through Tasesa Lavea, the Force levelled the scores with a penalty and then went ahead through Giteau's try after a five-metre line-out.
From a Giteau kick the Chiefs counterattacked and on advantage for off-side created an overlap for Lelia Masaga who scored. Donald converted and the Chiefs led 17-15 after 22 minutes.
Donald had a break and Shepherd sped past Masaga but pout a left foot on the touch line before Leonard got his first try. Bad handling off a poor pass by Jon McGrath led to a roomy scrum. Lauaki played to Leonard going right and the halfback took off with Sitiveni Sivivatu on this right. Leonard dummied Drew Mitchell who faced two attackers and scored. 22-15 after 30 minutes. The Chiefs were well in front and stayed there.
Kinikinilau had a run down the left but Mitchell, hurting himself, brought off a saving tackle but pressure on Shepherd in side his in-goal produced a five-metre line-out for the Chiefs who bashed and bashed till Messam flipped a little pass to Kinikinilau who stretched over for a try at the posts. That was the bonus point for the Chiefs and made the score 29-15 at half-time.
The Force opened the scoring in the second half with a splendid try as their forwards made like clever backs. Spread across the field going left lock Rudi Vedelago gave to flank Matt Hodgson who fed prop Gareth Hardy who beat a man with a neat dummy and gave to flank Richard Brown who set Shepherd free for a try in the corner. Giteau converted from touch into the diagonal breeze which had made kicking towards Referees' Corner a serious option during the match. 29-22 after 41 minutes.
Donald kicked a penalty and then Lauaki ran through Junior Pelesasa, who had a good match on attack but not on defence. Kinikinilau and then Leonard carried it on and eventually Tanerau Latimer forced his way over from close quarters. 37-22 after 49 minutes.
The Chiefs put huge pressure on the Force, whose scrum was a rickety thing. Digby Ioane lost the ball forward in a tackle near his line and the try became inevitable, scored by Lavea off a short pass from Sivivatu. Donald converted. 44-22.
Mitchell got a neat try which started with a line-out and was promoted by good running by Fava before Mitchell did a scissors with Giteau and cut over under the posts. 44-29 after 57 minutes.
Lauaki played to Leonard from a scrum and the halfback shot past Staniforth and kept on running on a ling diagonal for the corner on his right whet re he scored. 49-29 after 60 minutes.
Giteau then got his solo try, Donald kicked a penalty and then Leonard broke again and gave to Messam who switched with Kinikinilau, who completed his hat-trick. 57-36 with three minutes to go.
That was time enough for one more try as Messam, now at No.8, sent Leonard off on another break. There was passing, the ball went loose and Leonard swooped on it and dived over for his hat-trick of tries. Donald converted.
Man of the Match: Not all that easy in such a free match but Matt Giteau of the Force was remarkable and so were Sione Lauaki, Aled de Malmanche, Rory Kinikinilau for the Chiefs. But our Man of the Match goes to Brendon Leonard for the season's most remarkable running from a half-back... or any other player for that matter!
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Kinikinilau 3, Masaga, Leonard 3, Latimer, Lavea
Cons: Donald 5
Pens: Donald 3
For the Western Force:
Tries: Sharpe, Giteau 2, Shepherd, Mitchell
Cons: Giteau 4
Chiefs: 15 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Dwayne Sweeney, 12 Tasesa Lavea, 11 Roy Kinikinilau, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Byron Kelleher, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Keith Robinson, 4 Jono Gibbes (c), 3 Nathan White, 2 Tom Willis, 1 Aled de Malmanche.
Replacements: 16 Simms Davison, 17 Ben Castle, 18 Kristian Ormsby, 19 Steven Bates, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Tane Tu'ipulotu 22 Jared Payne.
Western Force: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Digby Ioane, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Junior Pelesasa, 11 Cameron Shepherd,
10 Matt Giteau, 9 Chris O'Young, 8 Scott Fava, 7 Matt Hodgson, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Rudi Vedelago, 3 AJ Whalley, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Gareth Hardy.
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17