The Chiefs notched their first win of the Super 14 on Friday, beating the Force 31-13 and grabbing a bonus point with a last-minute burst by Colin Bourke.
The home side dominated from start to finish. They crossed the fine line that had separated delight and despair a week ago against the Sharks, tearing into the game up front and picking any gap possible out wide.
There were still far too many mistakes though, which kept the Force in the game for longer than they should have been. Armed with decent execution to go with the energy and intent, the Chiefs could have been a bonus point of tries up by half an hour rather than by a single point.
This time the Chiefs stuck at it and reaped the rewards, even bringing the momentum over the half-time pause.
They led after 44 seconds with a try that owed as much to slack defence as it did to the Chiefs' build-up play. A clearance kick from Matt Giteau was fielded by Sosene Anesi who swung the ball across the park to Callum Bruce. Ryan Cross was steaming up on Bruce on a blitz but Bruce managed to get the ball away in time and there was Lelia Masaga to beat three weak tackles and accelerate home under the sticks.
A great start, plenty of what followed was great as well from the Chiefs, yet as the clock ticked past 30 minutes the score was only 7-6. As with last week, the final phases kept going wrong. Passes would go to ground, a scrum at a free-kick was wheeled and lost, a line-out near the Force line from a penalty was thrown in skew, enthusiastic support went in off feet or offside. It was complete game domination, miserable profligacy - tinged also, as with last week, with the wrong end of a few 50-50 calls.
The Force barely offered anything. Liam Messam, Tanerau Latimer and Serge Lilo shut down Giteau with nobody outside stepping up to help Giteau out. That must be a concern for John Mitchell: Junior Pelesasa is a fine centre but is not much in the way of a second five-eighth. If Giteau is under pressure, who can relieve him?
But the visitors did take their chances. Giteau landed a penalty after eight minutes for offside and Cameron Shepherd landed one from inside his own half to make it 7-6 after 12 minutes. They stayed in the game for a while, then the Chiefs finally broke it.
Brendon Leonard scored the second try, fittingly for the amount of good attacking ball he brought to the party. After Liam Messam had broken some more tackles down the right, Stephen Donald strode through the fragmented midfield and slipped an inside pass to Leonard who also went under the posts.
Four minutes later Richard Kahui broke up the blind side on the left, popped a ball out to Sitiveni Sivivatu, who offloaded out of the tackle back inside to Kahui for another run-in to the poles. Needless to say, with all the scorers making life easy for him, Donald landed all three conversions for a 21-6 half-time lead.
The Force tightened up their game up front after the break and discontinued the blitz defence which had created more problems for themselves than the Chiefs in the first half.
Slowly they worked their way back into the game, but the threat still came from the home team. Leonard broke from his own 22 and fed Masaga, who was just beaten to his own kick ahead by Nick Cummins. Masaga broke audaciously from under his own posts, but ran away from his support.
Still the mistakes in execution haunted the home team and so the visitors found a back door into the game, when a high kick from Giteau was mis-fielded under pressure by Anesi and Tamati Horua was given a clear run home.
Donald made it 24-13 with a penalty on the hour mark, but the question still hung tensely in the air: would there be a bonus point try?
There were shades of last week before it did come. Two moves and several phases were stopped almost on the line, Mike Delany had a score ruled out for a forward pass, a cross-kick by Donald only found Drew Mitchell who marked.
That could have been the end of it, but Mitchell, hoping to spark a last-gasp length of the field move to grab a bonus point for the visitors, opted to tap and go from his own line. The Chiefs turned over and out the ball came to Colin Bourke who steamed in under the posts - even then it needed a TMO to verify the try's legitimacy. But this one counted. Will it kick-start the Chiefs' season?
Man of the match: A tough one to call. Lelia Masaga was a constant threat, while Brendon Leonard once again underlined his All Black credentials, playing as though his knee had never been injured. Then there was the work-rate in attack and defence of Sitiveni Sivivatu. But for his role in shackling Giteau and helping out his attackers, the bustling performances of Liam Messam and Tanerau Latimer are the winners here.
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Masaga, Leonard, Kahui, Bourke
Cons: Donald 4
For the Force:
Pens: Giteau, Shepherd
Chiefs: 15 Sosene Anesi, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Liam Messam (c), 7 Serge Lilo, 6 Tanerau Latimer, 5 Kevin O'Neill, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 James McGougan, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Ben May.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Joe Savage, 18 Mark Burman, 19 Colin Bourke, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Jackson Willison.
Force: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Junior Pelesasa, 11 Cameron Shepherd, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Matt Hodgson, 7 David Pocock, 6 Tamaiti Horua, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Tom Hockings, 3 Ben Castle, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 AJ Whalley, 18 David Pusey, 19 Richard Stanford, 20 Chris O'Young, 21 James O'Connor, 22 Haig Sare.
Referee: Matt Goddard (Australia)
Touch judges: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)