Super Rugby: Nailbiter at end as Chiefs stay alive

By Patrick McKendry

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BUMPS IN THE NIGHT: Liam Messam of the Chiefs sends teammate Tawera Kerr-Barlow flying as they collide during the match against the Blues at Eden Park last night.PHOTO/APN
BUMPS IN THE NIGHT: Liam Messam of the Chiefs sends teammate Tawera Kerr-Barlow flying as they collide during the match against the Blues at Eden Park last night.PHOTO/APN

The Chiefs kept their hopes of three consecutive Super Rugby titles alive with a win at Eden Park on Friday night which owed much to their ruthlessness in the wet and windy conditions and a fair bit to a Blues team who were anything but.

In doing so they consigned the Blues to their first defeat at what was their fortress in a difficult and frustrating season for them. They are out of the playoffs frame now, their miserable night compounded by what was thought to be a calf injury to Keven Mealamu after only 19 minutes.

Hooker Mealamu, who came on to so much deserved fanfare in his 162nd Super Rugby match, equalling former Wallaby Nathan Sharpe's record, cut a disconsolate figure as he limped off.

A Ma'a Nonu yellow card for a shoulder charge, in what was probably his final match for the Blues, was another depressing element to a match in which John Kirwan's team got their tactics wrong in the first half.

A late charge saw George Moala score with 12 minutes left to narrow the gap to 11-8 and set up a tight finish, but the Blues failed to capitalise.

The closeness of the final score will be no consolation. It did provide the Chiefs with a few nervous moments, however.

The home side's defeat also cost the Hurricanes a place in the finals, and heaven knows what the supporters of Mark Hammett's team were thinking as their agonisingly frustrating season also came to an end.

Looking for a miracle win by more than 38 points, which would have given them a lifeline, the Blues took leave of their senses in the first 40 minutes, turning down three shots at goal within the first 10 minutes and running everything despite the appalling conditions.

Not once did they kick for territory, despite having an extremely strong northeasterly at their backs and a determined and connected Chiefs' defence in their faces. The Chiefs, needing the win to continue their season, were never put under sufficient scoreboard pressure.

Steven Luatua, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jerome Kaino and Brendon O'Connor all went close, but couldn't breach, and as the Chiefs do, they soaked it up and fired it back.

Amazingly, the Blues were still in the contest at the start of the second half, and a change in tactics saw Ihaia West successful with his first shot at goal to equalise, but, as they sought to apply the pressure, a West pass was intercepted by Liam Messam and the loose forward went in from 50m.

It was a difficult night for Blues inside backs Bryn Hall and West, outplayed by opposites Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Aaron Cruden.

All Blacks first-five Cruden struggled with his goalkicking, but his running game was on target, as was, crucially, his option taking.

The Blues' scrum impressed early, before going through a tough patch and then coming out on top again, their dominance and the sinbinning of Chiefs lock Mike Fitzgerald helping Moala to his late try in the corner.

Chiefs 11 (Liam Messam try; Aaron Cruden 2 pens) Blues 8 (George Moala try; Ihaia West pen). HT: 3-0. APNZ

- Rotorua Daily Post

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