The Waikato Chiefs made light of jet lag after a long-haul flight from South Africa to New Zealand, outplaying the Wellington Hurricanes to stay on top of the Super 15 ladder.
The 33-14 victory on Saturday took the Chiefs to 39 points, two clear of the Western Stormers and Northern Bulls after week 10, with the Otago Highlanders a further three points back. The ACT Brumbies have 31.
There were no defeats for the top five sides while the NSW Waratahs have chance to make the top six should they beat the Canterbury Crusaders in Sydney on Sunday afternoon.
Conventional wisdom says teams take time to adjust to the impact of the 12 000km journey between South Africa and New Zealand, but this is not a conventional Chiefs side.
The Hurricanes’ attempt to run the Chiefs off their feet in the second half by stacking their bench with speedsters fell flat and it was the Waikato side who became stronger as the game went on, scoring three tries after the break.
Tanerau Latimer and Liam Messam controlled play around the breakdown while Sonny Bill Williams kept the Hurricanes’ defence scrambling.
The Chiefs are now unbeaten since their first-round loss to the Highlanders and coach Dave Rennie believes their best is yet to come
“Obviously we’re happy with where we’re at because we’re on top of the table, but the pleasing thing for us is that it hasn’t been perfect sailing along the way,” he said.
The Bulls, with a bye, benefited from the Chiefs’ failure to pick up a bonus point, while the Stormers stayed in touch when they rounded off their road trip with a 17-3 win over the Western Force in Perth.
The workmanlike victory gave the Stormers three wins from four matches in Australasia, losing their one match of the year to the Crusaders.
Strength and slick handling helped ACT Brumbies to a six-try 34-20 victory over Golden Lions at Ellis Park and the margin would have been greater had kickers Christian Lealiifano and Jesse Mogg not missed six shots between them.
The win completed a satisfactory two-match tour for the Brumbies, who collected two bonus points from a narrow loss to three-time title-holders Bulls last weekend.
The Otago Highlanders wiped out a 21-point deficit in the second half to pip Central Cheetahs 36-33 with the winning points coming from a penalty by replacement flyhalf Chris Noakes in the final minute of the game.
Cheetahs replacement flyhalf Sias Ebersohn bowed his head and tried to hold back tears as the ball sailed over the bar as he had fluffed a simple penalty attempt just moments before.
The Queensland Reds showed glimpses of the form that delivered them last year’s Super 15 title in a 23-11 win on Friday that saw the Auckland Blues slump to their sixth successive defeat.
The Reds stunned Auckland with two early tries and never let the Blues back into the match to be eighth on the ladder while the New Zealanders are at the bottom. – Sapa-AFP