The Chiefs had every reason to make hard work of this Super Rugby Pacific catchup encounter at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday, but that’s just not these guys’ style in 2022.
Clayton McMillan’s men shook off a problematic buildup, which saw them down as many as 18 players from their extended squad, to cruise to a 59-12 bonus-point victory over competition newcomers Moana Pasifika in a match they took control of with important strikes either side of the halftime break.
In the end the Chiefs ran in nine tries to two, and dominated the match with their ruck speed, their excellent hole running and ability to turn chances into points. Their third victory, from four matches, takes them to 19 points for the campaign, and has them excellently placed at this early juncture.
Remember their only defeat thus far was that last-minute heartbreaker to the Blues at Eden Park where Bryn Gatland’s handy penalty miss cost them a brilliant comeback victory.
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What’s more they put in a performance like this one against Moana Pasifika down so many frontline troops, which can only be good for important matters such as squad depth, morale and options at the coach’s disposal.
Given the makeshift nature of this lineup (there was only one specialist halfback in the 23, and a host of the backup brigade stepped into starting roles) no one would have denied the Chiefs a muddling performance in their fifth appearance of the season – the postponed clash from week 2.
And for a while there it was far from convincing as the visitors struggled to a 12-7 advantage with halftime looming. But Emoni Narawa’s strike just before the break and Jonah Lowe’s soon after the restart put the Chiefs, in a blur, out by 24-7, and from then on the resistance of the home side was pretty much killed off.
There was some slick stuff from the Chiefs who showcased their skills as they ran in first-half tries to Bryn Gatland, Hamilton Burr and Narawa, and got Lowe, Tupou Vaa’i, Pita Gus Sowakula, Brad Weber, Alex Nankivell and Tyrone Thompson on the scoresheet after the break.
Their forwards laid an excellent foundation, they made the most of a heavy penalty count against Moana Pasifika and played a crisp game of pace and penetration to leave their hosts in their dust. And this with a makeshift, cobbled-together combination.
Moana had their moments, especially in the first half when they hung in the arm-wrestle well. But their ill-discipline cost the,m dearly and they struggled to slow down the Chiefs’ quick ruck speed which had them on the back foot for most of the last 50 minutes.
In this lone New Zealand fixture for the weekend, with Covid leaving the Blues, Highlanders and Crusaders all unable to field teams, the competition new chums got somewhat of a wakeup call after their promising first-up effort against the Crusaders.
These established Kiwi franchises, even down a laundry-list of talent, can be unforgiving when you don’t get it right.
The big moment
Had to be Narawa’s try just before half – the Chiefs’ third of the spell. At that stage Moana had hustled well to trail just 12-7 in the shadow of the break. But with the rising penalty count and the visitors’ ruck speed both bothering the hosts, this clinical finish just before the intermission was the proverbial backbreaker.
7/10 It was always going to be tough for this contest to hit any heights with all that’s going on at the moment, but both teams tried hard. The Chiefs enjoyed the chance to play a bit of footy with ball in hand and were impressive in their execution. Moana hung tough for a while, but would have learnt a lot from a one-sided second spell.
The big picture
The Chiefs’ show rolls on, with three wins from four now, and all things considered this might have been their most impressive effort. With 17 players ruled out through the week, and another before kickoff, a cobbled together lineup came together very well indeed. For Moana Pasifika this was a wakeup call after their promising first-up effort against the Crusaders
Tupou Vaa’i. Any number of Chiefs could have taken this honour, but the big All Black once again showcased his versatility with an outstanding display on the blindside flank which underlines his status as one of the rising stars of the Kiwi game. Ran hard and well for a team-high 46 metres, and led the visitors’ dominance at the set piece.
Chiefs 59 (Bryn Gatland try 10 min, Hamilton Burr try 23 min, Emoni Narawa try 39 min, Jonah Lowe try 42 min, Tupou Vaa’i try 49 min, Pita Gus Sowakula try 60 min, Brad Weber try 63 min, Alex Nankivell try 73 min, Tyrone Thompson try 80min; Gatland 3 con, Josh Ioane 4 con )
Moana Pasifika 12 (Neria Foma’i try 17 min, Joe ‘Apikatoa try 67 min; Christian Leali’ifano con). HT: 19-7.
Yellow card: Leali’ifano 58 min.