Super Rugby Pacific’s transtasman resumption dished up a wild ride. Three cards, 10 tries. The result was predictable. The contest anything but.
Barely anyone turned out for Melbourne’s maiden ‘super round’ – where 10 of the 12 teams are playing this weekend. They missed the Waratahs capitulate and launch a spirited comeback, and the Chiefs to continue their patchy season to improve to 6-3.
Jonah Lowe’s four tries eventually eased the Chiefs to a well-earned bonus point win with Anton Lienert-Brown, Brodie Retallick, Brad Weber, Etene Nanai-Seturo and Shaun Stevenson sidelined. Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan won’t be satisfied, however, with some soft defensive lapses and the way his men allowed the Waratahs back into the contest after blowing away the improving Sydney side to lead by 19 points early.
Two minutes in a horror start from the Waratahs handed the Chiefs an advantage they didn’t need.
Angus Bell’s moment of madness, as he tipped All Blacks captain Sam Cane well beyond the horizontal, onto his shoulder and head, earned the Waratahs prop a red card.
Veteran Welsh midfielder Jamie Roberts followed Bell with a yellow card for a cynical knock down 12 minutes later to reduce the Waratahs to 13 men.
The Chiefs took full advantage of the Waratahs’ self-implosion to run in four first-half tries – three in the opening quarter to lead 22-3.
Even at that premature stage, any hope the Australians would pull off an upset seemed shot.
All Blacks second five-eighth Quinn Tupaea shone in the first half as he benefitted from a makeshift backline savouring their numerical advantage and ample space.
Tupaea claimed two tries, the second untouched. On the back of a dominant platform the Chiefs’ slick backline ran rampant.
Halfback Cortez Ratima delivered sharp delivery and Rameka Poihipi helped carry the playmaking load. Alex Nankivell continued to shine, allowing Tupaea and Lowe to prosper on the edges with six tries between them.
The Chiefs didn’t have it all their own way, though.
Restored to the full contingent, the Waratahs displayed the early signs of the spirit that would bring them back into the contest.
Lock Jed Holloway busted through Cane’s tackle to send his skipper Jake Gordon away, and powerful blindside Charlie Gamble bumped off Angus Ta’avao to lay on Alex Newsome’s strike.
The 30-17 halftime margin did not reflect the Chiefs’ dominance.
Waratahs captain Gordon sparked a remarkable 24-8 run to get within striking distance of the Chiefs. Gordon’s second-half try from a Bryn Gatland intercept – the Chiefs playmaker had pulled the strings nicely to that point – and 50-22 kick briefly turned the tide, before Lowe nabbed an intercept back for the Chiefs to push them clear.
After enjoying supreme control in the first spell the Chiefs were under the pump for large parts of the second half. A late yellow card contributed to a scrappy finish but they should have put the Waratahs away early.
The Waratahs, under first-year coach Darren Coleman, showed at times why they have improved from losing all 13 games last season to winning four of their previous five games.
Without the cards and losing both their hookers to injuries, which forced uncontested scrums, they could have been more competitive.
Yet the final blowout margin speaks to a painful next six weeks the Australian sides face.
Chiefs 51 (Jonah Lowe 4, Quinn Tupaea 2, Samisoni Taukei’aho tries, Bryn Gatland 5 cons, 2 pens)
Waratahs 27 (Jake Gordon 2, Alex Newsome tries; Will Harrison con, pen, Tane Edmed 2 cons, pen)
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