Chiefs light up the competition
The Chiefs needed less than 40 minutes to become the first team to notch a four-try bonus point as they produced one of the early upsets in the 2012 edition of Vodacom Super Rugby in dispatching the Blues 29-14 in Hamilton on Friday.
Much was expected of the Chiefs this season after a couple of off-season buys which have sharpened their attacking potential. But when last week they suffered an unexpected setback at the hands of the Highlanders, it looked as though that promise might remain on the team sheet, and their home defeat was enough reason to install the more rated Blues from down the motorway in Auckland as favourites.
Think again! It was a wet night in Hamilton, with rain falling steadily in the first half, but you wouldn’t have thought so the way both teams played. In the Blues’ instance, it was probably the wrong way to play, for they didn’t protect the ball enough and it played into the hands of a Chiefs team that were lethal with every opportunity that came their way. They had the Blues reeling with their hand-to-hand attacks and the way their several X-factor players were able to switch direction and angles.
No-one was more impressive than fullback Robbie Robinson, who repeatedly wrong-footed the Blues defenders to shift momentum, while Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Tim Nanai-Williams, not to mention Sonny Bill Williams, were not far behind.
It was the steady flyhalf play of Aaron Cruden though who set up the first try in the sixth minute. It was Cruden’s pinpoint kick into the corner that set up the attacking opportunity that enabled Sonu Taumololo to barge over for a try that Cruden converted. Just minutes later Cruden was on target with a long-range penalty, and suddenly the Blues were 10-0 behind and the game hadn’t even lasted that many minutes.
The Blues, once they started to win some lineout ball after conceding their first few throws, started to get some field position after that and they looked threatening on a few occasions. But the Chiefs were effective in closing the gap on defence and the Aucklanders had to rely on flyhalf Michael Hobbs’s boot to bring them back to within four points of the Chiefs with two successful penalties.
But the Chiefs quickly expelled any thought that the match was turning the Blues’ way by scoring three tries in the next 15 minutes that effectively ended the game as a contest. The first came in the 24th minute when Robinson wrong-footed a defender before setting off on an electrifying run that split the Blues defence and set up wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma for the try.
If the Blues thought an 11 point deficit meant some hard work was ahead of them the task of closing the gap became even tougher when Tim Nanai-Williams weaved his way in and out of a group of floundering Blues defenders before sending impressive scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow in for the try, which Cruden converted to make it 24-6.
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Then it was Nanai-Williams’s turn to score the bonus point try, which was the product of an almost freakishly brilliant long-range buildup. The attack started when flanker Liam Messam picked up an untidy scrum ball off the side before transferring to Kerr-Barlow, who put Robinson into a gap with an inside ball.
The fullback scythed through the middle and several players handled the ball after that before eventually it was wing Nanai-Williams who dotted down. Leading 29-6 at halftime, it was almost impossible to imagine the Chiefs losing from there, particularly on such a wet night, and while the Blues did dominate the possession battle in the second half, and scored the only points of the half through another Hobbs penalty and a consolation Sherwin Stowers try, the Chiefs’ defence stood firm.
Indeed, given the amount of possession the Blues did have at their disposal in the second 40 minutes, plus their territorial advantage, the Chiefs’ defence in that period was almost as impressive as their attack was in the first half. But the Blues did make it more difficult for themselves with some inaccurate play, and continued failures at the lineout contributed to their inability to sustain the pressure.
The Blues are going to have to become more organised in all aspects of their game if they are to recover from their early season setbacks -- they lost to the Crusaders last week -- by beating the Bulls and the Stormers on a South African tour that starts next week.
The Chiefs, by contrast, have sent out a loud warning to every other future opponent that they are not to be trifled with -- a backline that they have at their disposal means they are going to be hard to beat on those days that they click, as they did with devastating effect in this game.
Chiefs – Tries: Sona Taumololo, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Tim Nanai-Williams. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (3). Penalty: Aaron Cruden.
Blues – Try: Sherwin Stowers. Penalties: Michael Hobbs(3).