Rugby: Red mist blows into Hamilton to foil Chiefs

By Dylan Cleaver

Reds 23
Chiefs 18

Daniel Braid of the Reds looks to pass. Photo / Getty Images
Daniel Braid of the Reds looks to pass. Photo / Getty Images

Bet you never saw that coming.

The unbeaten Chiefs were tripped up in what was expected to be a triumphant homecoming by a fiercely committed Reds side, personified by the outstanding Daniel Braid.

The visitors pummelled the Chiefs at the breakdown and, despite conceding three tries inside 20 minutes, forced the vaunted home backs into countless handling errors.

Chiefs' coach Ian Foster was unhappy with a schedule that handed his side a Friday night game after three weeks on the road, but the legs did not appear to be the problem, more the heads.

After a flying start it seemed the Chiefs felt they could do all the frothy stuff without laying a platform first.

The Reds had other ideas.

The Chiefs have enjoyed a fairy-tale beginning to the season and that trend continued last night.

After just three minutes Brendon Leonard sniped following clean ball off the top of the lineout. That put the Reds on the back foot and a slick blindside move allowed the returning Sitiveni Sivivatu to cut back against the grain, beat a couple of poor cover tackles, including the Waikato-raised Quade Cooper, and crashed over.

If Sivivatu in full flight was the last thing Ewen McKenzie's injury-hit Reds wanted to see, Lelia Masaga in similar mode would have run a close second. After a sweeping move, which saw Sivivatu and Mils Muliaina combine down the left flank, the ball was quickly switched and Masaga just beat the cover to the corner.

With just a quarter of the match expired, Sona Taumalolo barrelled over from close range following a Stephen Donald break. At that stage it was only the fact that Donald was having an off night with the boot that was preventing a blow out.

Just when thoughts began to creep in that perhaps the Reds' new-found resolve was a mirage, the previously disappointing Cooper delayed a pass beautifully to send league convert Will Chambers in under the posts.

A further examination of their collective ticker was provided when Brando Va'aulu found himself cooling his heels in the bin after an ugly tackle on Sivivatu. At halftime, however, with Va'aulu's sanction all but up, the Reds had outscored the Chiefs 6-3 while he off the field.

There was nothing spectacular about the secret to the Reds comeback, just total commitment to the breakdown that was not matched by the home side. It appeared the Chiefs were thinking two to three phases ahead rather than playing what was in front of them. The Reds were making them pay, their forwards working numerous pick-and-go options off easily recycled front-foot ball.

Foster can not have been happy with what he was seeing, replacing two-thirds of his front row with half an hour to go. He might have been tempted to change goal-kickers, too, after Donald left his ninth point on the field with a relatively simple miss.

Cooper's radar was more finely tuned and another penalty brought the visitors within two points with a quarter of the match remaining.

Mike Delany entered the fray, with Donald shifting out a spot. Sivivatu should have scored but Richard Kahui delayed his pass a split-second too long. Another backline breakdown later and The Reds' flying fullback Luke Morahan had won a foot-race to the ball to score adjacent to the posts.

Chiefs 18 ( Sitiveni Sivivatu, Lelia Masaga, Sona Taumalolo tries; Stephen Donald pen)

Reds 23 (Will Chambers, Luke Morahan tries; Quade Cooper 3 pen, 2 con). HT: 18-13.

MILS WATCH

Calm and composed, it was as if the custodian had never been away. Which is basically what we've come to expect from Mils Muliaina. His combination with Sitiveni Sivivatu down the left flank was ever dangerous and he showed the value of experience with his positioning on defence, expertly covering a Scott Higginbotham toe-through. He might be a bit of game time short of the explosive acceleration that marks his broken-field running.

- NZ Herald

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