Rugby: Taumalolo stakes claim to tryline territory

By Dylan Cleaver

Chiefs player Sona Taumalolo. Photo / Christine Cornege
Chiefs player Sona Taumalolo. Photo / Christine Cornege

The Chiefs on attack, a ruck near the line, a pile of bodies from which Sona Taumalolo emerges with the ball aloft and a grin as wide as the Waikato River - you know it's coming, but it never gets boring.

The Tongan prop took his act to altitude at the weekend, scoring two tries against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

That took him to six for the year and to the top of the charts. It's the sort of thing you might expect from a player with two ones on his back, not a single.

Taumalolo has claimed ownership of the land that runs from sideline to sideline, one metre out from the tryline and one metre beyond. His teammates have learned to defer to the 30-year-old when the ball is in that territory.

"He loves it when we get close to the line," captain Craig Clarke said. "He's pretty close to the ball usually.

"He's got a good technique at the pick-and-go, so we use him."

The cult of Taumalolo continues to gather members by the day. A decent player with perceived limitations, his second coming was announced when he was engaged in that unforgettable stare-down of the French scrum during Tonga's shock World Cup victory in Wellington.

Since then a pair of shocking pink boots, a couple of huge performances while awaiting the birth of his second child and, of course, several tries have added devotees by the week.

Taumalolo was seen mainly as an impact-type player, aerobically unable to remain effective for 80 minutes.

Dave Rennie might have started his Chiefs tenure with similar concerns, but a calamitous opening night loss to the Highlanders that saw both Ben Afeaki and Toby Smith ruled out with long-term injuries meant he required more from his experienced prop than decent bursts.

Smith, more comfortable on the loosehead side of the scrum, will come back into selection reckoning for the weekend's match against the Sharks, but he'll be doing well to shunt Taumalolo down the pecking order.

It is not just the five-pointers that have characterised Taumalolo's form. He and his nephew Ben Tameifuna have given the Chiefs scrum a solidity many pundits feared would be missing when the Super Rugby squads were announced. Questions were justifiably asked as to whether the Chiefs' Rolls Royce backline would be left idle.

The 39-33 victory against the Cheetahs provided further evidence that these Chiefs are for real.

No matter Rennie's protestations that they were yet to hit their straps and that he had been disappointed in the manner of a couple of the victories. There has been the sense the Chiefs were over-achieving.

Two wins from two on tour, one against a fast-improving Cheetahs side.

These Chiefs might not be perfect, but they're leading the competition. They're well coached and well led and they've proved that, with momentum, they're as hard to stop as a Tongan prop with the tryline beckoning.

TOP OF THE PROPS

Leading try scorers in Super 15

* Sona Taumalolo (Chiefs) 6
* Andre Taylor (Hurricanes) 5
* Bjorn Basson (Bulls) 5.

- NZ Herald

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