Rugby: Chiefs overpower Sharks

By Gregor Paul in Hamilton

Chiefs' Bundee Aki dives for the try during the round 11 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images.
Chiefs' Bundee Aki dives for the try during the round 11 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images.


The Chiefs' rugby mojo is a slippery thing. They had it early tonight, lost it, found it again and left everyone a little sure quite whether they will be able to locate it the next time they play.

They delivered a performance of quite stunning contrasts: when they were on, in the zone and not flapping about, they were quite lethal. Intense, driven, accurate and far too good for the Sharks.

The good bits were memorably good - the angles of running, the speed of the recycle, the crispness of the passing, the invention, the endeavour - everything. For periods, they were the Chiefs of last year, almost oblivious the Sharks were even there.

But the problem was they were decidedly patchy. A black hole engulfed them for 20 minutes in the first half where they disappeared: they were apparently sucked into a void, leaving no trace.

That period saw them squander a 24-0 lead: it saw them open the door and invite the Sharks, who up until then had been tourists whose bus had taken an unfortunate turn somewhere along the way to leave them stranded at a rugby ground they had no interest in being at, to work their way back into the game at a leisurely pace.

It was a colossal waste of a brilliant start: a start that seemed to have much to do with the return of captain Craig Clarke.

He's one of those blokes who doesn't have to do much to inspire those around him - remind them that graft, discipline and accuracy are the qualities that actually matter.

For 20 minutes the Chiefs got all that. There was no danger of them being caught cold as they had in the previous two weeks.

They sensed the Sharks were barely awake, still occupying that dreamy head space that afflicts jet-lagged travellers. And they pounced -went for the jugular, scoring three tries in 22 minutes.

That really could have been the it right there and then for the visitors. They were teetering - if they had conceded one more try, it felt like they would have collapsed. The white flag would have been run up the pole and things could, and probably should have turned ugly.

But a lead like that is only handy if the pressure continues to pile on; it's only worthwhile if the accuracy and explosive flair that built it, stays at the top of the dial.

Whether they thought they had done enough, or the Sharks simply woke up...who would know, but the script took a dramatic twist just as the emphatic victory storyline was emerging. The Chiefs lost their mojo and didn't find it again until half-time.

A brief flurry after the break saw them build their lead again to the point where it always felt that it would be enough for them to win. It was much like the first half in that the Chiefs, when they were good, really were good.

But after that, there was nothing impressive or convincing about the way they played. Their discipline was again a problem - too many penalties were conceded at the collision and too many first up tackles were missed.

That's probably the thing that will be worrying the coaching staff the most - the Chiefs haven't built a performance around their defensive wall since they beat the Blues in late March. They are at their best when they use their line-speed and gang-tackling to shut down the space, frustrate teams and give them nothing for free.

The Sharks got plenty tonight - not quite for free, but certainly at bargain prices.

Still, the upshot of a frenetic and almost schizophrenic performance was that the Chiefs gathered five points and regained their place at the top of the New Zealand conference.

Chiefs 37 (A. Tikoirotuma, B.. Aki, T. Nanai-Williams (2) tries; G. Anscombe 4 cons, 2 pens; A. Cruden pen)
Sharks 29 (D. Minnie (2), L. Mtembu, K. Daniel tries; P. Lambie 3 cons, pen)

- Herald on Sunday

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