Chiefs, Blues win in Super Rugby, Sunwolves fall short again
The Chiefs went atop the Super Rugby table and established themselves as title favorites by winning at the ACT Brumbies 48-23 with a bonus point on Saturday.
The Hamilton-based Chiefs, champions in 2012 and 2013, have won in South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia in successive weeks and that feat alone — unlikely to be duplicated by any team this season — makes them the best in the competition after six rounds.
They have also achieved those wins while severely depleted — lacking as many as 12 frontline players who are injured — and had to overcome one of the most formidable home advantages in the tournament, beating the Brumbies in Canberra for the first time since 2008.
"For me, two years ago sticks in my memory when we lost twice in Canberra, one was a quarterfinal," Chiefs captain Sam Cane said. "I'm really pleased we could come back and put in a performance that we're proud of."
Also, flyhalf Ihaia West scored a try among 19 points as the Auckland-based Blues made the best of a few opportunities in a scrappy match to beat Argentina's Jaguares 24-16, and Japan's Sunwolves lost again — their fifth defeat out of five — this time to fellow tournament newcomers the Southern Kings. The Bulls beat the Cheetahs in a feisty South African derby.
Against ACT, the Chiefs continued to play the sprawling attacking style that has made them the leading pointscorers and tryscorers in Super Rugby, scoring six tries to two.
Brumbies flyhalf Christian Leali'ifano kicked two early penalties but almost from their first possession, the Chiefs produced a try to winger Toni Pulu. They then wrested the lead from the Brumbies with a try from a long series of passes to left winger James Lowe.
Prop Scott Sio barged over to give the Brumbies a 13-12 advantage, and the Chiefs immediately regained the lead with a penalty to Damian McKenzie, then initiated a brilliant try from the kickoff that gave them a 20-13 lead at halftime.
McKenzie increased his tally as the top individual pointscorer of the season with early second-half penalties. The Brumbies struck back with a try to hard-working flanker Scott Fardy, converted by Leali'ifano that brought them within the margin of a converted try at 26-20.
The Chiefs sealed the match with Lowe's second try. From a reversing five-meter scrum, flyhalf Aaron Cruden scrubbed a left-foot kick crossfield that fell into the arms of Lowe for his second try of the match and fifth of the season. When scrumhalf Brad Weber scored two minutes later, the Chiefs clinched a bonus point and McKenzie added the coup de grace in the final minute, his seventh try of the season.
West's try on halftime gave the Blues an unlikely 15-6 lead over the Jaguares after they spent most of the first spell camped within their own half, bogged down by penalties, and reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes.
West kicked a conversion and four penalties, three in the second half, to keep the Blues in front as the Jaguares hit back with a try to Gonzalo Bertranou. But the Jaguares were again unable to turn territory into points, taking only two penalties from the first 30 minutes spent constantly on attack.
In Port Elizabeth, South Africa, the Sunwolves came back from 15-3 down to level at 23-23 against the Kings after tries by their popular hooker Shota Horie, flyhalf Tusi Pisi and lock Tim Bond. It took the Kings until the 78th minute to finally break clear with their third try, scored by flyhalf Elgar Watts. The Kings won 33-28 leaving the Sunwolves, predictably, at the bottom of the standings.
The Bulls used their big pack of forwards to create first-half tries from close range to second-rowers RG Snyman and Jason Jenkins on the way to victory over the Cheetahs. Having claimed the lead early when Snyman crashed over, the Bulls never gave it up, despite the Cheetahs coming within two points at one stage with a rolling maul score for Torsten van Jaarsfeld. The Bulls held on to win 23-18.