The Sharks were handed a rugby lesson right out of their own book, the Chiefs handing them a 35-27 Super 14 hammering at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday.
Do not be fooled by the scoreline. The Sharks were well beaten. Yes, they claimed a four-try bonus point, yes, they won the second half 24-10, but after 46 minutes the Sharks were 3-32 down - the Chiefs having done to them what the Sharks did to the Blues in Albany last weekend.
The home side hassled the Sharks - kicking cleverly and putting pressure on their opponents and they took their try-scoring chances well, claiming their four-try bonus point early in the second half, having ended the first half with three well-taken tries against a shell-shocked Sharks unit.
Chiefs first five-eighth Stephen Donald opened the scoring in the fourth minute with a penalty goal, before right-winger Lelia Masaga claimed his team's first try, diving over in the right-hand corner, despite a brave tackle from opposite number JP Pietersen. Lauaki punched the early hole in the normally watertight Sharks defence, midfielders Tasesa Lavea and Dwayne Sweeney shuffled the ball out to Masaga, TMO Gary Wise eventually awarding the score.
Donald missed the conversion, but 8-0 soon became 11-0, thanks to another Donald penalty, Lauaki gaining ground and getting behind the Sharks defence, with Jacques Botes ruled off-sides at the tackle, perhaps unluckily so.
At 0-11 down, the Sharks finally began to play some rugby of their own. They forced Chiefs fullback Sitiveni Sivivatu into touch from the re-start, but found themselves going backwards thanks to a lucky ball steal by the Chiefs, which saw them win the scrum feed. Lauaki powered ahead from the set-piece - one area where the Sharks actually dominated, although, at times, it worked against them! - scrum-half Brendon Leonard kicked ahead and Masaga's chase put them on the back foot. Young Francois Steyn took his time to clear and suddenly Lavea was diving over for the score - Donald having charged down Steyn's attempted clearance and adding the extras for an 18-0 lead.
The Sharks were shipping a point a minute at that stage, but they tightened things up, eventually getting onto the scoreboard in the 33rd minute through a long-range Steyn penalty. Their worries, however, were merely increased shortly before the break when Lavea grabbed his double, dotting down from a lucky bounce after Donald had chipped over the flat-lying Sharks defence, the ball bouncing off the base off the upright and into Lavea's hands.
Donald slotted the conversion with ease for a 25-3 half-time lead, with Sharks coach Dick Muir introducing Butch James after the break in a bid to strengthen his team's defence. James hardly had time to settle though before speedy No.6 Liam Messam spun out of an innocuous tackle, straightened and found Lavea, who put last week's hat-trick hero Leonard away for the bonus-point clinching score.
The Chiefs were full value for their 29-point buffer, even bringing on versatile front rower Aled de Malmanche - for Tom Willis at hooker - in a bid to strengthen their scrum. Ironically, the Sharks' first try came from a scrum when No.8 Bob Skinstad burst off the base and past Lauaki for a score in the 48th minute. Whilst that blotted the impressive Lauaki's copybook, it gave Skinstad some satisfaction, the former Springbok skipper having spent the night keeping AJ Venter out of trouble, but it is also fair to say that he has looked a lot more comfortable at flank this season since his return from England.
Skinstad was followed over the whitewash shortly afterwards by industrious loosehead prop Deon Carstens, who powered over in the left-hand corner after a successful kick to touch, followed by a line-out drive, but another Montgomery conversion miss left the visitors trailling by 20-33.
Crucially, Donald stretched the Chiefs' lead to 35-20 shortly after the 60-minute mark, but the Sharks would have the final laugh(s) in this match, after chasing their tails for most of the game.
A Marty Holah yellow card gave them a crucial one-man advantage between minutes 67 and 77, the visitors' powerful scrum earning them a penalty try in the 72nd minute, which Montgomery converted, before replacement hooker Bismarck du Plessis drove over from close-range, claiming the four-try bonus point and suddenly putting the visitors in contention for a losing bonus point, too.
Steyn was handed a shot at goal from well within his own half four minutes from time in a last-gasp effort to grab that second bonus point, but he pushed his attempt wide (how crucial was that Donald penalty in the 61st minute?), the match eventually ending as it began with the Sharks conceding a penalty.
The Chiefs will be well-pleased with their victory - their fifth of the season - as it keeps their semi-final hopes well and truly alive, whilst the Sharks, who left their A-game in Albany, will be cursing their performance, as a victory tonight would have moved them that much closer to a possible home semi-final.
Man of the Match: After the first 40 minutes the only contenders were Chiefs players - No.6 Liam Messam, No.8 Sione Lauaki, halfbacks Brendon Leonard and Stephen Donald and second five-eighth Tasesa Lavea. For the Sharks, scrum-half Ruan Pienaar showed his class behind a beaten pack, but the most influential man of this match was the human wrecking-ball Sione Lauaki, who powered over the advantage line almost at will in the first half. Forget the Sharks comeback in the second half - this match was won between minutes one and 46. If Lauaki could play for 80 minutes he would be near unstoppable...
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Lavea 2, Leonard, Masaga
Cons: Donald 3
Pens: Donald 3
For the Sharks:
Tries: Skinstad, Carstens, Penalty try, Du Plessis
Cons: Montgomery, Steyn
Chiefs: 15 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Dwayne Sweeney, 12 Tasesa Lavea, 11 Roy Kinikinilau, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Marty Holah, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Keith Robinson, 4 Jono Gibbes (c), 3 Nathan White, 2 Tom Willis, 1 Simms Davison
Replacements: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 Craig West, 18 Kristian Ormsby, 19 Steven Bates, 20 David Bason, 21 Tane Tu'ipulotu, 22 Jared Payne
Sharks: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Bradley Barritt, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Francois Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Bob Skinstad, 7 AJ Venter, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Johan Ackermann, 3 BJ Botha, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Deon Carstens
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Warren Britz, 20 Ryan Kankowski/Butch James, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Adrian Jacobs
Referee: James Leckie (Australia)
Touch judges: Brett Bowden (Australia), Josh Noonan (New Zealand)
Television match official: Gary Wise (New Zealand)
Assessor: Kim Eichmann