Rugby: Gutsy Chiefs edge out Bulls

By Dylan Cleaver

Lelia Masaga of the Chiefs runs past Wynand Olivier of the Bulls during the round 14 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Bulls at Waikato Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.
Lelia Masaga of the Chiefs runs past Wynand Olivier of the Bulls during the round 14 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Bulls at Waikato Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.

Chiefs 28
Bulls 22

The Chiefs celebrated Liam Messam's milestone match with a gutsy, come-from-behind win.

The Hamilton side are not used to being behind at halftime but they clawed their way back from an eight-point deficit to make Messam, who with 90 became the most-capped Chief tonight, a happy man.

For a long time, it looked like his big night would be hollow.

The Chiefs struggled for fluency in the first half. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, named in Steve Hansen's 35-man squad last week, has not played for some weeks and his timing with forwards running in the narrow channels was a split-second off.

That meant the Chiefs were playing too much rugby behind the advantage line and struggled to ask many probing questions of the Bulls' defence. The Bulls did not miss a single tackle in the first half

Not that there was anything subtle about the way the Bulls went about their work with ball in hand.

They based their attack around the lineout, something they have clearly seen the Chiefs struggle against in successive matches against the Lions and Reds.

The Bulls were a truck-and-trailer penalty away from scoring the game's opening try, but that honour instead went to the impressive Andrew Horrell. The try owed everything to the committed kick chase of Asaeli Tikoirotuma and a shocking effort under pressure by Akona Ndungane.

It signalled a brief period of dominance for the home side, a period that saw them turn down two kickable penalty opportunities in the search for a second try.

There was another five-pointer before halftime, but it was the competition's leading try-scorer, Bjorn Basson who crossed, taking Lelia Masaga a little too easily on the outside.

The saw the Chiefs take an eight-point deficit into the sheds. Conversation should have been strained. The Chiefs fascination with trying to out-muscle the Bulls seemed to be playing into the visitors' gnarled hands.

The attacking talents of Masaga, Sonny Bill Williams and Aaron Cruden were neutered as the Chiefs bashed around the fringes and bashed again.

The Bulls started the second half in control but slowly the Chiefs gained control. When Craig Clarke turned down another kicking opportunity to call a scrum, he would have poked his head up just in time to watch his backs execute a stunning set play try.

That gave them a 21-19 lead, which they ceded almost immediately to the deadly accurate Morne Steyn.

The Chiefs, trailing with less than a quarter of the match remaining, were entering season-defining territory. In that regard, perhaps they will look back on Sam Cane's try with the sweetest sense of satisfaction.

A moved that swept the length of the field culminated in a quick lineout and a Williams bust through the middle that underlined his importance to this side.

There were a few hairy moments on the way to the final whistle, particularly as their lineout started to falter badly.

The Bulls had a final chance, but the Chiefs defence was not in a bending mood.

This was an important win for the home team, who got a serious case of the speed wobbles against the Reds in Brisbane a fortnight ago.

Coach Dave Rennie and his staff had the bye week to contemplate the errors of their ways and refocus their side as they bid for the New Zealand Conference and, ultimately, Super 15 titles.

It will not be easy. The Crusaders loom after winning four of their past five, including last week's clinical dissection of the Blues, and have the much softer finish.

They meet in the penultimate round of the tournament and the Chiefs would dearly love to maintain at least a six-point buffer before that clash. There is only one way the Chiefs will achieve that - keep winning.

- APNZ

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