Rugby: Chiefs back to winning ways

By Kris Shannon

Tim Nanai-Williams of the Chiefs is tackled by Stefan Watermeyer (L) and Elton Jantjies (R) of the Lions during the round 12 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Lions. Photo / Getty Images.
Tim Nanai-Williams of the Chiefs is tackled by Stefan Watermeyer (L) and Elton Jantjies (R) of the Lions during the round 12 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Lions. Photo / Getty Images.

Chiefs 38
Lions 8

No one within the Chiefs will be too effusive in their self-praise but this display was sorely-needed from the Super Rugby champions.

While the Chiefs clinically put away the Lions in a game they always needed to win, the frisky performance of their previously-faltering backline was of equal importance to the result.

First Take: Slight of hand saves Chiefs' season

After their attacking struggles had allowed the New Zealand conference to condense - with just two points separating all five teams coming into the contest - the Chiefs showed some of the fluency that has been lacking in the last month.

It was far from a vintage display - there were still too many penalties and errors were too prevalent to earn that tag - but it arrived at a crucial time, ahead of a showdown with the Blues in New Plymouth next Friday.

Then arrives the bye, after which the prospect of a fully-fit Aaron Cruden is on the horizon. His thumb injury was the key reason behind the road bump the Chiefs have hit on the quest for a third straight title but, after tonight's victory, his side will be well-placed for a playoff push on his return.

If the Chiefs' attack had been ailing them in recent weeks, then this fixture arrived as an ideal medicine. The previous five games between these two teams had produced an average of 76.2 points and, as they showed in the early stages, the Lions were as willing as their opponents when it came to running the ball.

Their approach looked like it would create chances for the Chiefs to strike on the counter, and indeed the bonus point try arrived as early as the 44th minute. But the match-up initially appeared less than perfect for the home side, with a messy opening quarter seeing the off-colour champs slipping off tackles in defence and making too many mistakes in attack.

The Chiefs needed to show patience and prevent the bad memories of the last month to cause panic in their attacking play. And they did just that in scoring the game's opening try on one of their first real opportunities, laying a solid platform from a lineout and moving the ball through several speedy phases before Gareth Anscombe slipped through a hole.

It was a nice reply from first five-eighth to critics that the Chiefs had lost their verve in the absence of Cruden, and the confidence it would have provided Anscombe seemed to spread throughout his teammates.

The Chiefs' proceeded to show more penetration that they had in the prior fortnight, with Nathan Harris denied a brilliant try to cap an impressive first start after an obstruction call on front row partner Josh Hohneck.

The signs were promising that the Chiefs were primed to bust out of their attacking slump, something which duly arrived in the minutes before the break. First Tanerau Latimer finished a swift move that took the home side from one wing to the other, then Charlie Ngatai, in his first start since mid-March, scored his side's third on the stroke of halftime.

After picking up where they left of when Pauliasi Manu burrowed over just after the break, the Chiefs were able to play with the freedom that makes them so dangerous in possession. The wrap-around passes were readily produced and clever kicks were being put into space - this was the side of the champs that had been missing with Cruden.
Courtnall Skosan's try in the corner reduced the deficit and took some sting out of the Chiefs' efforts, but their point had been made long before Bundee Aki and Tim Nanai-Williams crossed late. Bring on the Blues.

Chiefs 38 (G. Anscombe, T. Latimer, C. Ngatai, P. Manu, B Aki, T Nanai-Williams tries; G. Anscombe 3 cons, A. Horrell con)
Lions 8 (C. Skosan try; E. Jantjies pen)

- APNZ

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