Chiefs grind out victory over Force in Perth
The Chiefs confirmed their status as Super Rugby title contenders with a hard-fought 20-12 victory over the Western Force in Perth on Friday.
Tries from wingers Leila Masaga and Tim Nanai-Williams - the latter created by an outrageous offload from Sonny Bill Williams - along with 10 points from the boot of flyhalf Aaron Cruden gave the Chiefs their fifth win in six games this season.
The Force, coming off last week's 45-19 thrashing of the champion Reds, were unable to breach the New Zealanders' line and had to be satisfied with four penalties from fullback David Harvey.
"It was very tough to get points," Chiefs skipper Craig Clarke said in a pitchside interview. "We did open them up a couple of times but they scrambled very well. A very tough, grinding win."
However manfully the Force tackled and however fiercely they contested the breakdown, however, only a string of handling errors from the Chiefs talented backline saved the home side from a heavier defeat.
Masaga was the standout back in the match with three searing breaks and he got early reward for his contribution when he crashed through two tackles to score under the posts 15 minutes into the match.
The Chiefs continued to attack from all parts of the pitch but their handling let them down at crucial moments and Harvey punished any infringements with his kicking.
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The Force, led from the front by captain and openside flanker David Pocock and Wallabies lock Nathan Sharpe, went in at halftime only a point down but conceded another try eight minutes after the restart.
A Cruden break got the Chiefs inside the home 22 and quick hands got the ball out to centre Sonny Bill Williams wide out on the left wing.
As the All Black and part time boxer was being bundled into touch, he lobbed the ball one-handed inside to his cousin Nanai-Williams, who was able to cross the line untouched.
Cruden added the extra points and two further penalties ensured the Chiefs would move above the Otago Highlanders into top spot in the New Zealand conference - at least until their rivals play the unbeaten Stormers in Dunedin on Saturday.
Force – Penalties: David Harvey (4).
Chiefs –Try: Lelia Masaga, Tim Nanai-Williams. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (2). Penalties: Aaron Cruden (2).