Chiefs continue roll to stay top
The Chiefs continued their winning roll by beating the Sharks 18-12 in a closely fought Super Rugby match at Mr Price Kings Park in Durban on Saturday.
A freakily brilliant solo try from Chiefs reserve scrumhalf Augustine Lulu sealed the home team’s fate off the last play of the game, the Kiwi shaping as if he was going to run or kick the ball into touch as he rounded a loose scrum on the short side. However, instead of doing that Lulu slipped past the initial defenders before setting off along the touchline to score in the corner.
Flyhalf Aaron Cruden hit the posts with the conversion to at least allow the Sharks to escape with a bonus point, but it arguably isn’t enough to keep the Sharks in the chase for South African conference honours in the competition. The result retains the sequence of the season for the Sharks so far, with a good performance against the Blues last week being followed by a reverse.
Not that the defeat was entirely unexpected, for the Chiefs have become a fine team this season, with their strong forward play and defence complementing their running skills. As their skipper Craig Clarke agreed after the final whistle, a full house of victories on a tour in Super Rugby is a rare thing, so the Chiefs did well to complete a
three-match tour with three wins.
They played the Western Force in Perth en route to South Africa, where they beat the Cheetahs last week and now the Sharks, and are deserved leaders on the allround points table at the halfway mark of the competition. They haven’t been beaten since the opening week loss to the Highlanders in Hamilton and playing as they are now, their advance to the playoffs is going to be difficult to halt.
The Sharks do deserve credit though for keeping the talented Chiefs in check for much of the game, and their abrasive defence shut down the creative genius and strong running talents of Aaron Cruden, Sonny Bill Williams and Richard Kahui for most of the 80 minutes.
It was the Sharks who started the stronger of the two sides, and knowing how important it was to pick up a win ahead of their bye next week, which would have meant they came back for the second half of the competition in which they play mostly home games in a position where they could challenge the tournament leaders, they bristled with intent from the kick-off.
The Sharks were all over the Chiefs in the first 10 minutes, but what was noticeable was that the Chiefs were fronting their opponents physically, and their defence was organised, and there was no way through for the hosts. The Chiefs weathered the early onslaught to reverse the momentum of the game in the second 10 minutes, and slowly they started to put the squeeze on the Sharks.
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TENSION AND DRAMA
The first Chiefs try was hotly contested by some of the Sharks players who, perhaps with some justification, argued that there was some blocking from the Chiefs when Cruden rounded off a good, patient build-up with a sideways run through the Sharks defence to dot down next to the posts. Cruden converted to make it 7-0 to the Chiefs after 19 minutes.
The Chiefs looked to be taking control of the game at that stage, but their attempts to put the likes of Williams through the gaps were thwarted by a combination of the abrasive Sharks defence and the slippery film of moisture around the ball on what was a humid night in Durban. Both teams made a lot of handling errors and they contributed to the game not being quite the spectacle that might have been hoped for.
But it didn’t lack for tension and drama, and also nailbiting nervousness from a home crowd that knew how important it was for the Sharks to continue the winning momentum they picked up last week in Auckland if they wanted to go into the second half of the competition with a realistic shout at mounting a challenge.
The Sharks made some silly mistakes though, and their decision to kick for the corner flag from a kickable penalty was one they would have lamented as an overthrow at that lineout gave away possession and allowed the Chiefs to play their way back into Sharks territory.
The upshot was that instead of the Sharks drawing back three points it was the Chiefs who were presented with an opportunity after a scrum infringement on the half hour mark, and Cruden nailed it to make it 10-0. Lambie drew three points back with a kick just before halftime.
Williams was penalised six minutes into the second half for Lambie to cut the deficit to four points, and the Sharks dominated possession in the third quarter, and together with their advantage in the territorial battle they started to draw themselves back into the game.
Another Lambie penalty after 51 minutes made it 10-9 before the Chiefs began to reassert some of their earlier dominance both at forward and in the battle for territory. They made a similar poor decision to that made by the Sharks in the first half when they eschewed a kickable penalty in the 56th minute, but was presented with a chance in the 61st minute to make amends, which Cruden did.
The four point lead was cut back to one with a quarter hour to go when Lambie kicked another penalty, and that was the start of a tense period which was ended by August’s try. Both Cruden and Lambie had their chances with long range penalties as most of the final quarter was played between the respective 22 metre areas.
The Sharks – Penalties: Patrick Lambie (4).
Chiefs – Tries: Aaron Cruden, Augustine Pulu. Conversion: Aaron Cruden. Penalties: Aaron Cruden (2)