1st-place Chiefs win 6th straight Super Rugby Pacific match
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Hamilton-based Chiefs have validated their top placing in Super Rugby Pacific by extending their winning start to the season to six games with a composed 20-13 win over the Auckland-based Blues.
The Chiefs now have beaten both of last year’s finalists, the Crusaders and Blues, in the first six weeks of the season and established themselves as clearly better than both of those teams
Saturday’s home win over the Blues was their best of the season so far, achieved in wet and slippery conditions in which they played tidy rugby while the Blues turned in an error-strewn performance.
While the Chiefs were unfairly on the wrong end of the penalty count, they were well-organized in defense and met the many threats from the Blues with resolve.
If the All Blacks selectors were closely watching the match, they will be concerned about the form of many of the Blues test players. Flyhalf Beauden Barrett, especially, had an oddly distracted game, muffing his first two kicks at goal and kicking badly in general play. He also cost the Blues a try in the 14th minute when, unaccountably, he stepped on the dead ball line before grounding the ball.
Winger Caleb Clarke scored a try but dropped the ball in the final moments when the Blues were pressing the Chiefs goal line, hoping to force the match to extra time. Handling errors plagued most of the Blues’ star backs, notably Rieko Ioane who had a poor game. Fullback Stephen Perofeta grassed two high kicks and never really managed to get back into the match.
Chiefs captain Sam Cane won a vital contest with his All Blacks rival Dalton Papali’i on the openside flank. The Blues had an early advantage at scrums but that subsided as the game continued.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald had called on his All Blacks to step up for this match, saying “they’re the games you want to play in. They’re the big games.
“If you want to be an All Black you’ve got to excel on the biggest stage in front of tough crowds against tough opposition. This is a chance for our players to do that and put their hands up.”
The Blues are fifth on the championship table and appear to be heading for another mediocre season, without the excuses of the defending champion Crusaders who are besieged by injuries. The Christchurch-based team were without 16 frontline players when they beat the Queensland Reds 25-12 on Friday.
The Chiefs have been the team most affected by injuries in recent seasons. With a cleaner injury slate, they have been able to sustain their form this year.
Head coach Clayton McMillan said he was “stoked with the defensive resilience” shown against the Blues.
“They threw a lot at us for large periods of the game,” McMillan said. “We really struggled to get out of our own quarter but the boys kept on getting up and working hard for each other. It was more pleasing than some of the nice tries that were scored."
The ACT Brumbies rallied from 33-21 down with 20 minutes left to beat the New South Wales Waratahs 40-36. The winning try came in the 77th minute through winger Corey Toole, extending the Brumbies winning streak over the Tahs to 11 games
“Anytime you beat the Tahs you’re very happy, and (it was) a pretty epic game, really,” Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said. “We had two 14-point swings, one in the first half and one in the second and we showed really good composure.
"We put a lot of pressure on their exits in that second half and they made a few mistakes and then look, we found a way to win that one.”
The Wellington-based Hurricanes led 38-14 with 20 minutes left and just held on to beat the Western Force 45-42 on Sunday. The win lifted them into second place behind the Chiefs.
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