The Chiefs scored a 31-13 bonus-point victory over the Force in Hamilton.
It didn’t take in-depth technical analysis to establish why the Force were 21-6 down at half-time and ultimately why they lost the match. At the break they’d already slipped 15 tackles, three of which lead directly to tries. For all their supposed attacking prowess, the Force are not going to make any progress if they don’t shore up their defence.
They also weren’t helped by a plethora of handling errors, errant tactical kicking, poor ball protection at the breakdown and inconsistent work at the set phases.
Conversely, the Chiefs were relatively good in these areas and showed a composure in building through the phases which hasn’t always been a feature of their play. Their greatest strength, their attacking ability, has also been their greatest enemy. But today they struck the balance perfectly, blending the expansive with the measured.
The first try, just two minutes into the contest, came thanks to the former. The ball was swung wide just outside their 22m area and found Lelia Masaga who bust through three tackles before cracking on the afterburners to score.
Matt Giteau and Cameron Shepherd pulled their side within one point with a penalty apiece, but the Chiefs struck twice in quick succession, the first to Brendon Leonard who rounded off a move that featured Liam Messam and Stephen Donald both breaking through a number of limp tackles, while Richard Kahui profited from more shocking defence for the third try.
The Chiefs botched a couple of good scoring opportunities early in the second half, and it was the Force who made the decisive breakthrough, scoring through Tamaiti Horua, who scooped the ball up after Callum Bruce made a mess of collecting an up-and-under. Matt Giteau converted and the Force clearly looked galvanised.
The Chiefs have shown a vulnerability under pressure in the first three rounds, but the manner in which they kept their composure this time will encourage their coaching staff.
They maintained a good shape in defence and resisted the urge to play expansively, preferring instead to keep possession or gain field position through tactical kicks by their halfback pair. This shut the Force out and they were rewarded for absorbing significant pressure when Colin Bourke smashed over from short range for the bonus point try after the siren had sounded.
The Chiefs will be hoping this victory sets in motion a consistent run that ignites their play-off ambitions. For the Force it’s back to the drawing board. But with the Sharks visiting next weekend it doesn’t get any easier.
By Ryan Vrede