At FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton: Chiefs 54 (Quinn Tupaea tries 11min, 30min, 46min, Aidan Ross try 25min, Kaleb Trask try 49min, Tupou Vaa’i try 57min, Samisoni Taukei’aho tries 66min, 76min; Bryn Gatland 6 con, Kaleb Trask con) Force 21 (Toni Pulu try 32min, Jeremy Thrush try 61min, Michael McDonald try 73min; Jake McIntyre 2 con, Ian Prior con). HT: 21-7.
The Chiefs have edged closer to securing a home quarterfinal, but their thrashing of the Force may just have come at a big cost.
Co-captain Sam Cane left the field with a knee injury in the 17th minute of the 54-21 victory in Hamilton on Saturday evening – a blow which could potentially have ramifications beyond the Super Rugby Pacific season for the All Blacks skipper.
After taking a knock to his right knee in a tackle, Cane was treated by medical staff and initially looked set to play on before instead being replaced, at least able to walk unaided to the sideline, then later seen in the dugout with ice applied.
It only added to a Chiefs casualty ward which already includes stars Brodie Retallick and Anton Lienert-Brown, had grown during the week thanks to a new wave of Covid-19 cases, and then also had young ABs lock Josh Lord join it after being a late withdrawal due to a knock sustained at training.
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However, despite all their inconveniences, the hosts, in fron of 9124 at FMG Stadium Waikato, got back to some of their best footy – something coach Clayton McMillan had been pleading to see with the playoffs just a fortnight away – running in eight tries to three.
Quinn Tupaea further pressed his claims for the black No 12 jersey, all power in scoring a hat-trick before being replaced close to the hour-mark with the game well in the bag, as former All Black Richard Kahui’s homecoming didn’t go close to a dream return to his old stomping ground.
In fact, in suffering a 25th straight loss to Kiwi sides, the Force became just the second team in Super history to concede 50-plus points in three consecutive games (the Sunwolves being the other with the unwanted record).
The Chiefs once again had their scrum to thank for their early dominance, allowing them to fly out to a 21-0 lead, which was always going to be too much for the Force to reel in.
The visitors did their best to, though, quickly striking back when Toni Pulu latched onto a cross-kick and dived into a corner he was rather familiar with during his time at the Chiefs in 2016-2018.
However, the Force just couldn’t find a way through when threatening right on halftime, as the Chiefs, largely through promoted starter Samipeni Finau, put in a ton of punishing hits to ensure they enjoyed a 14-point buffer at the break.
Then it quickly got ugly early in the second spell.
Tupaea latched onto a great offload from Bryn Gatland to canter in for his third try, then a few minutes later came a stunner, when the No 12 looked like he might have No 4, before unselfishly unloading and after a wild Pita Gus Sowakula offload Kaleb Trask had the spoils.
Samisoni Taukei’aho came off the bench and bagged a double off lineout drives to round out the rout.
The big moment
The injury to Sam Cane overshadowed all else. There will be some very anxious Chiefs and All Blacks staff awaiting the prognosis on that knee, with the playoffs a fortnight away, and the series against Ireland looming in six weeks.
7/10: It wasn’t much of a contest, but there were tries aplenty – 11 to be precise – and some of them were rather easy on the eye.
The big picture
The bonus-point win sends the Chiefs to 41 competition points, and a win in Fiji against the Drua in the final round next Saturday will secure the all-important fourth spot for quarterfinal hosting rights. The Force are still mathematically in the playoffs race, though may not be by tomorrow evening, and have a catchup game against Moana Pasifika in Auckland on Tuesday night.
There were a host of contenders from the home side, but Bryn Gatland can take the honours. He kept the battle for the No 10 jersey with Josh Ioane alive with a slick display where he set up plenty of fine attack, running for 106 metres on seven carries, beating five defenders, making a clean break and throwing two offloads. Also good off the tee, landing six of his seven shots.