Waikato Chiefs dealt another blow to the Auckland Blue’s title ambitions with a deserved 16-11 victory in a typically hard-fought all-New Zealand Super rugby clash at Eden Park, Auckland on Saturday.
A third successive defeat for the Blues drops them from second to third in the overall standings and left them just two points ahead of the Canterbury Crusaders in the race for the top spot in the New Zealand conference.
The seven-times champion Crusaders, who had a bye this week, host the Blues, who have won three Super rugby titles, in Timaru in the penultimate round of the regular season next week.
The Chiefs, already well out of the play-off race, scored their only try through evergreen centre Tana Umaga in the first half and had marginally the better kicker in Stephen Donald, who made four of seven kicks for 11 points.
The Blues hit back in the second period with a try from Jared Payne but never had nearly enough possession to get their backs going as the Chiefs turned the screw at the set piece and ran back every loose kick.
Blues flyhalf Luke McAlister kicked two penalties in the first 10 minutes, the second a booming effort from five metres inside his own half, but then missed five successive kicks before being replaced 10 minutes from time.
“Really disappointing, the Chiefs really came out to play and pressured us tonight and deserved the win,” Blues skipper Jerome Kaino said in a televised pitchside interview.
“You can’t really play the territory game without the ball. We couldn’t really get anything going.”
Umaga rolled back the years to help the Chiefs to a 7-6 lead at the break, the highlight coming when the 38-year-old former All Black captain burrowed his way through defenders to ground the ball on the line and finish off a move he had started with a line break.
Donald, vying for the back-up position to All Blacks flyhalf Dan Carter for the World Cup with McAlister, kicked his first penalty in three attempts to extend the lead to 10-6 soon after the break.
The Blues struck back almost immediately from an attacking scrum, quick hands in the backline allowing outside centre Payne to scythe through the defence to put the home side ahead by a point.
Their lead lasted just six minutes until another Donald penalty put the Chiefs back in front and, with the Blues struggling to get any forward momentum going on a greasy pitch, he added the coup de grace with his third two minutes from time.
“We’re stoked, the boys really dug deep, it was pretty difficult conditions but we got the win,” said Chiefs captain Mils Muliaina. “It would be nice to finish the season tonight.” – Reuters