Chiefs beat Wales 40-7 in midweek tour match
Veteran flyhalf Stephen Donald opened a new chapter of his personal legacy within New Zealand rugby when he led the heavily depleted Chiefs to humiliate Wales 40-7 in a rare midweek tour match on Tuesday.
Donald established his legend when he kicked the winning penalty for New Zealand in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final against France after being summoned from a fishing trip on the eve of the match to join an injury-hit All Blacks team. New Zealand won 8-7.
Donald captained the Chiefs for the first time in his 88th match for the Hamilton-based team, in his first starting appearance in 2016, and in what was only the third match between a Super Rugby team and an international side.
He created the Chiefs' first try, had a try of his own disallowed, and kicked four conversions in an historic victory.
Bloodied and limping after a mammoth performance, Donald was replaced after 70 minutes and received a standing ovation from Chiefs fans.
"It's been about two years since I had to play 80 minutes and my little calves couldn't get me the distance," Donald said. "We seemed to defend for 80 percent of the game but this group of battlers did well tonight.
"We were excited as hell about this match. The Welsh are a good team and we thought, 'Hell, we're just going to rip into them,' and hopefully that will be enough."
The Chiefs were without eight players currently with the All Blacks, who beat Wales 39-21 in the first of three tests last Saturday. They also lacked as many as 10 players sidelined by injury, and others who are with the New Zealand Under-20s at their world championship in England.
Because of those absences and despite being Super Rugby champions in 2012 and 2013 — currently second in the Super Rugby table — the Chiefs were given little chance of upsetting a strong Welsh midweek team.
Wales was made stronger when an injury to back-rower Ellis Jenkins saw test captain Sam Warburton start, while stars Taulupe Fauletau and Jamie Roberts joined the reserves.
Warburton played 45 minutes before handing over to Faletau, and Roberts joined the fray after 55 minutes, without lifting Wales' limp performance.
The Wales players had the incentive of competing for places in the lineup for the second test against New Zealand in Wellington on Saturday. With winger George North ruled out of the remainder of the tour with a torn hamstring, there was an obvious vacancy in his position.
Fullback Matthew Mason probably did best, making a few elusive early runs. Coach Warren Gatland has the option of starting Mason at fullback on Saturday and switching first test fullback Liam Williams to North's wing. Only Mason and scrumhalf Gareth Davies really took the chance to impress, though the Wales scrum was solidly anchored by the experienced front row of Tomas Francis, Scott Baldwin, and Rob Evans.
The match pointed out differences between Welsh and New Zealand rugby which were evident in the first test. The Welsh had plentiful possession but could advance the ball only slowly, and a meter at a time, though the carries of tight forwards; the Chiefs went immediately and through long passes to the outside backs, who often found Wales' flank defense porous.
Wales' defense was flat but that allowed the Chiefs to turn them with chip kicks into space. The speed of Wales' breakdown possession was slow, while the Chiefs recycled the ball with lightning speed, placing constant pressure on a stretched defense.
Most importantly, the Chiefs ran at the defensive line, cutting down Wales' space, and forcing turnovers.
The Chiefs ended up handing the Welsh their worst defeat since 2010, when they lost to the All Blacks 42-9 in Dunedin.
Wales took 55 minutes to score its first points — a try to replacement hooker Kristian Dacey from a standard lineout drive. The Chiefs led 21-0 at that stage with tries to scrumhalf Brad Weber, No. 8 Tom Sanders and lock Dominic Bird.
They clinched their win with late tries to fullback James Lowe, American-born winger Toni Pulu, and Sam McNichol as Wales faded badly.