Chiefs Manawa No 8 Kennedy Simon dives over for a try against Matatū in the Super Rugby Aupiki opener in Hamilton on Thursday night.
Chiefs Manawa have taken a giant step towards winning the maiden Super Rugby Aupiki competition.
That’s the reality after their tense 17-15 win against Matatū in the first match of the compact competition in Hamilton on Thursday night, when they needed a last-ditch conversion attempt to miss to get home in regulation.
Matatū prop Amy Rule had scored out wide a moment earlier, but Australian pivot Arabella McKenzie pushed her conversion attempt wide-right.
Playing without star halfback Kendra Cocksedge, it will sting Matatū, who dominated the second half of the match.
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Matatū coach Blair Baxter sure will rue his side’s inability to cash in the dominance they enjoyed in the second half until Rule’s last-ditch try.
They should have scored multiple times, including in the 54th minute, when hooker Georgia Ponsonby looked sure to touch down on the back of an impressive lineout drive, only to lose the ball over the line.
Matatū captain Alana Bremner argued the maul had been dragged down illegally, but her protest fell on deaf ears.
The long-awaited Super Rugby Aupiki kickoff came with a few player welfare enforced changes, given Covid-19 forced the competition to be crimped into a 10-day window.
That included 35-minute halves, 25-strong match-day teams, and the ability to roll substitutions.
The Chiefs sure bolted out of the gates, running it from anywhere and everywhere, a fair enough tactic with weapons such as Portia Woodman and Ruby Tui at their disposal.
Remember the name Angel Mulu. After all, the Chiefs’ prop bagged the first try in competition history, when she flopped over the line in the seventh minute on the back of three consecutive penalties.
The big moment
Chiefs Manawa fullback Hazel Tubic couldn’t have asked for a better bounce when she uncorked what appeared to be an innocuous kick late in the first half.
But when it found grass just inside the opposition half, it took a pig of a bounce, evaded a couple of Matatū players, and sat up perfectly for her to run on to.
She offloaded to Edmonds, who found 2021 Black Ferns player of the year Kennedy Simon to finish the movement, giving the hosts a crucial 17-10 lead at halftime.
7/10. As far as competition openers go, you probably couldn’t ask for too much more.
Sure, coaches Allan Bunting and Baxter would have been disappointed with the number of unforced errors, but six tries, plenty of attacking intent, and some stout defence made for an entertaining match.
The thunderous hit Matatū wing Martha Mataele put on Chiefs midfielder Carla Hohepa in the first half of the match also warrants a mention.
The big picture
Already favourites heading into the compact competition, Chiefs Manawa are now white-hot favourites to be crowned the inaugural Super Rugby Aupiki champions.
That’s the reality when there is no final, and the Blues and Hurricanes Poua were forced to split competition points, after the latter was forced to withdraw from their first game due to a Covid-19 outbreak in their camp.
It leaves Chiefs Manawa in the box seat with games against the Poua (Tuesday) and Blues (Sunday week).
Matatū face the Blues on Tuesday and the Hurricanes Sunday week. All games are at FMG Stadium Waikato.
There were questions regarding Matatū’s midfield after Grace Brooker busted her knee playing for the Black Ferns last year, but Liv McGoverne sure answered them.
A powerful No 12 with deceptive speed, it was one of a bunch of McGoverne’s offloads which resulted in wing Grace Steinmetz scoring a peach of a first half try.
Chiefs Manawa 17 (Angel Mulu try 7min. Ruby Tui try 21min, Kennedy Simon try 31min; Kelly Brazier con) Matatū 15 (Pip Love try 17min, Grace Steinmetz try 27min, Amy Rule try 73min). HT: 17-10