Super Rugby: Favorite Chiefs withhold Blues challenge
The Chiefs retained their place at the top of Super Rugby and their status as title favorites but faced their stiffest test of the season Friday before emerging with a 29-23 win over New Zealand rivals the Blues.
The Hamilton-based Chiefs scored five tries to two but needed a 76th-minute try to All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick — returning from injury — to make the game safe and post their fifth consecutive win.
The Crusaders also had to score late to beat Australia's Western Force by a point, and South Africa's Stormers breezed into a 27-0 lead on the way to a 46-19 win over competition newcomers the Sunwolves of Japan in the day's last game. The Sunwolves have lost all six of their games so far in their debut season.
Leading 10-6 at home after the first half, the Chiefs found themselves 20-10 down when the Auckland-based Blues scored two tries in four minutes, through Melani Nanai and Rieko Ioane.
In keeping with their form throughout the season, the Chiefs held their composure and reclaimed the lead with tries to flyhalf Aaron Cruden and center Seta Temanivalu before Retallick made the game safe.
At Perth, Australia, loose forward Jordan Taufua scored a try with two minutes remaining and flyhalf Richie Mo'unga kicked the conversion to give the Crusaders a 20-19 win over the Western Force.
Replacement Ryan Louwrens had given the Force a 19-13 lead following a Crusaders turnover, helping the home side recover from a 13-6 deficit at halftime.
But Taufua barged over after sustained pressure from the Crusaders and Mo'unga slotted the conversion from nearly in front of the posts for the winning points.
Mitchell Drummond and Johnny McNicholl had scored first-half tries for the Crusaders, but the visitors played a mostly listless second half before Taufua's late try.
"I don't think it was a good performance, to be honest, but we'll take the four points," Crusaders captain Kieran Read said.
Attacking from deep at every opportunity, the Stormers scored four tries inside 25 minutes against what appeared to be an overawed Sunwolves team in Cape Town.
But the Sunwolves showed some grit — and ability — to hit back with tries either side of halftime to South African fullback Riaan Viljoen and scrumhalf Yuki Yatomi, who scored with a clever snipe around the fringes of a ruck. Viljoen got a second with 15 minutes to go.
But the Stormers scored seven tries in all, with two from flanker Sikhumbuzo Notshe, as the Sunwolves found it difficult without rested flyhalf and playmaker Tusi Pisi.
The Sunwolves had lock Timothy Bond sent off with 10 minutes to go for a shoulder charge to the head of Stormers fullback Cheslin Kolbe.
With the bonus-point win, the Stormers extended their lead at the top of the South African conference and temporarily moved second overall behind the Chiefs. The Sunwolves have the worst record of all the 18 teams.