Planet Rugby

Chiefs head into the top four

21st March 2009 08:14


Kaino stopped v Chiefs

Stopped in his tracks: Jerome Kaino finds no change from the Chiefs defence

The Chiefs underlined their status as serious Super 14 title contenders on Saturday with a terrific 63-34 win over the Blues in Hamilton.

In a wonderful open game, the Chiefs back-line came into its own. Sitiveni Sivivatu had a hat-trick by 26 minutes - his team also had a bonus point by then - and the back-row put in a monumental effort to destroy any Blues momentum.

The scoreline makes the game appear more one-sided than it really was. The Blues attempted no less running than their hosts - after 20 minutes they had little choice, so far behind were they - yet it failed to click completely.

That happens. What doesn't often happen was the quality of rugby from the Chiefs. They punished every turnover, they finished off every clean break, they stole line-outs, they bullied at rucks. Offloads stuck, bounces went their way. It was as perfect a game of rugby from one team as you could reasonably expect ever to see.

At the hour mark, possession was 50-50. The Blues even shaded it in terms of territory. Yet the Chiefs led an astounding 56-20, the type of scoreline not seen since Super Rugby realised forwards were important in the wake of 2003.

In all, there were fourteen tries, nine to the hosts and five to the visitors who reaped a deserved bonus points for their efforts. There were moments of mirth as well as action - not least when referee Mark Lawrence was cleaned out at a ruck and then elbowed Ali Williams on the nose as he signalled a free-kick. This game just had everything that was good about rugby.

Mark Lawrence deserves a mention here as well. In the starkest of contrasts to yesterday's display from Matt Goddard, Lawrence was even, controlled, and unintrusive. He was helped by the determination of both sides to play rugby, but if Matt Goddard is sick of the criticism of his handling of the Hurricanes-Bulls clash, he should take the video of this game into a dark room and study it closely.

Beyond that, it's difficult to know where to start! It's hard to remember the first try thirteen tries ago!

That was scored in the third minute by Sivivatu, who slid in for TMO approval after a quick tap penalty by the excellent Brendon Leonard who cannot fail now to have won his All Black jersey back. Donald converted from the touchline to begin his near-perfect day - a later penalty off the post the only blemish on his record.

Two minutes later the Blues hit back. Ali Williams peeled off the back of a maul to storm down the right, popped inside to Chris Lowrey who somehow got the ball off again in the tackle to Isaia Toeava.

Gopperth missed the conversion, but landed a penalty from within his own half to briefly give the Blues the lead.

Then the Chiefs hit full flow. Sivivatu popped up in the middle, dummied, stepped and accelerated away under the posts. Then a grubber kick from Donald after a turnover - not the first - bounced kindly for Richard Kahui who also crossed by the poles. Then another turnover went through the back-line hands effortlessly and perfectly to give Sivivatu a 30m run-in, briefly avoiding cousin Joe Rokocoko on the way. Donald converted all three tries for a 28-8 bonus-point lead after 26 minutes.

Sometimes that kind of run of scoring stops. Not this time. At yet another turnover from Blues attacking ball, Brendon Leonard hacked the ball on, picked it up, and coasted home unopposed under the posts.

But the Blues never stopped at least trying to attack, even if it was falling into their opposition's hands. At 35-8 down, their only chance of getting anything was by scoring four tries anyway so caution was thrown to the wind.

That all culminated in a rare fluid spell of pressure, and an excellent tap penalty move down the line for Rokocoko to cross on the stroke of half-time. Gopperth converted from the touchline for a 35-15 half-time scoreline.

Sometimes that kind of half of rugby is just not even vaguely replicated after the break. It was this time.

The Blues attacked first, with Lowrey crossing the line but failing to convince the TMO he had grounded the ball.

On 48 minutes, the effervescent Lelia Masaga took a pass at pace from Leonard after yet another turnover and crossed - again, under the posts.

Immediately the Blues struck back, with Rokocoko making the initial thrust and Anthony Tuitavake taking the ball around the side of the ensuing ruck. 42-20.

Right from the restart Justin Collin spilled the ball and Liam Messam pounced while the Blues gawped, steaming home. 49-20.

The next try was probably the pick of the bunch. Masaga, Sivivatu, Muliaina and Kahui all combined, with switches and offloads and perfect pass timing sending Callum Bruce in for a slice of the scoring action.

Finally a pause in the scoring, but never in the action. The Chiefs pack managed to tear the ball away from Ali Williams as he drove for the line. Kahui, with an overlap begging, overcooked a pass straight into touch.

Then the final ten minutes, and more tries. Mealamu and Toeava combined and Jamie Helleur scored the Blues' fourth, earning them a deserved bonus point.

The Chiefs backs responded with another mesmerising piece of interplay to send Sivivatu away for a fourth, one which broke several records, not least Roger Randle's long-held record of the most tries for the Chiefs in one game.

We still weren't done. At a powerful late Blues scrum, the ball went wide for Rokocoko to notch his second, one which was rounded off by another majestic conversion from the touchline.

A magnificent game of rugby - and one for which all thirty players get the Man of the Match award!

The scorers:

For the Chiefs:

Tries: Sivivatu 4, Kahui, Leonard, Masaga, Messam, Bruce

Cons: Donald 8, Delany

For the Blues:

Tries: Toeava, Rokocoko 2, Tuitavake, Helleur

Cons: Gopperth 3

Pens: Gopperth 2

Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Kevin O'Neill, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben May, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Sona Taumalolo.

Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 James McGougan, 18 Toby Lynn, 19 Serge Lilo, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Dwayne Sweeney.

Blues: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Michael Hobbs, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Justin Collins, 6 Chris Lowrey, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (captain), 1 Charlie Faumuina.

Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Onosa'i Auva'a, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Jamie Helleur, 22 Paul Williams.

Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)

Touch judges: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Pro Legoete (South Africa)

Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

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