Chiefs counter Blues’ blitz

GARETH DUNCAN reports on the Chiefs’ 41-34 bonus-point victory over the Blues in Albany.

Seventy-five points, nine tries and 13 kicks at goal were scored in this highly entertaining and closely contested New Zealand derby. Four of those five-pointers were dotted down via Chiefs wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma, who equalled the Super Rugby record for most tries scored by a player in one match. He becomes the 10th player to achieve this feat.

But despite Tikorotuma’s fine finishing, the Blues scored four tries of their own to create a competitive clash. The hosts have struggled for confidence and cohesion throughout the season, but they were an improved team in this encounter. Two of their tries came in the final quarter against a 14-man Chiefs side, who lost lock Michael Fitzgerald for punching (their second yellow card of the match). This forced a late 34-34 deadlock.

A comeback win was on the cards as the Aucklanders looked determined in the dying stages, but the Chiefs regained the ascendancy when they returned to 15 men. During an attacking move in the 70th minute, fullback Robbie Robinson put through an accurate chip, which saw Tikorotuma outsprint the Blues’ covering defence to score the match-winning try.

The haul of maximum log points will see the Chiefs hold pole position in the Kiwi conference and on the overall table for another week, while the Blues claim two consolation log points.

The visitors enjoyed the better start in the first half as they surged into a 20-10 lead by the half-hour mark. Flyhalf Aaron Cruden’s clever chip exposed the opposition’s rushed defence and put Tikoirotuma through for his first try, while inside centre Sonny Bill Williams held off five defenders on route to the chalk. Cruden added the extras and two penalties.

However, the Blues fought back bravely and levelled matters by half-time. Both teams were reduced to 14 men when Blues flank Steven Luatua and Chiefs wing Maritino Nemani were sin-binned for dangerous tackles in quick succession. The game loosened up thereafter and Blues wing Lachie Munro slid in at the corner thanks to a strong run from speedster Rene Ranger. This saw the scoreboard read 20-20 at the break.

The Chiefs started the second stanza strongly, and impressive build-up play allowed Tikorotuma to complete his hat-trick by the 55th-minute. With the 34-20 advantage, the Chiefs were expected to cruise to victory.

The Blues flipped the script when Fitzgerald was yellow-carded moments later. Fullback Rudi Wulf and Ranger crossed the chalk to break down the deficit, but the Chiefs still managed to clinch their 11th win of the season following Tikorotuma’s record-equalling fourth try.