Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Chiefs edge Blues in classic contest

Chiefs 29 Blues 23
Shaun Stevenson dives over for the Chiefs. Photo / Getty
Shaun Stevenson dives over for the Chiefs. Photo / Getty

A classic contest which nearly had a dramatic twist in the plot - no wonder everyone feels Super Rugby is all about the New Zealand derbies.

And no wonder New Zealand's players weren't keen on having eight of these encounters in a season any more: the toll on the body would be too much.

The rugby tonight had no forgiveness. It was end to end, aerobically exhausting football that had ample venom in the physical exchanges.

The Blues were unrecognisable from the team they have been in recent weeks and more than did their bit to lift the intensity and drama.

As it happened: Chiefs v Blues

This was the performance of the year so far by the Blues. It was better than their season opener against the Highlanders.

There was more depth and variation to it; more courage and tenacity.

There was also significantly more creativity to it. The biggest disappointment about the Blues' appalling away record is not necessarily that they have only won twice in the better of four seasons, it's the fact that they have offered so little when they haven't been at Eden Park.

That wasn't the story in Hamilton. The Blues played. They had structure and movement that flowed.

They weren't deadly or unstoppable, but they pieced together some patches of rugby that will allow them to feel confident they can beat a lesser team than the Chiefs.

If only they could have stayed cooler at certain times then they would have pushed that bit further ahead when they had the momentum.

They had a 10-minute blitz early in the second half when they scored two tries and turned the game on its head. From seemingly clinging on, they were suddenly ripping the Chiefs for fun, but after they stormed to a 10-point lead, they needed to be controlled, accurate and dominant.

Instead, they were a touch frantic, loose and overly ambitious and opened the door for the Chiefs to come back as quickly as they fell behind.

Maybe it was inevitable that the Chiefs were going to take back ownership of the game. They didn't compete the way they would have liked in all aspects, but when they did have the ball, their skill level bordered on freakish. It didn't matter the number on the back, the timing and awareness was exquisite and that gave them this extraordinary ability to keep the ball alive.

Continuity is the key to their game and they are able to do it so well because forwards the size of Brodie Retallick can throw the most delicate pop passes and a man as big as Atu Moli can fix and draw the defender.

When this competition is over, regardless of what happens from this point, the other 17 teams are going to have to accept that the Chiefs set a benchmark for skill execution.

They did, of course, offer more than the basics. Charlie Ngatai was in a different class again. He had one run which was devastating to the point of almost being unbelievable.

A bit of footwork, a change of direction, a fend and he was suddenly racing towards the line despite the fact there had been an army of blue jerseys swarming him only seconds before.

Chiefs 29 (M. Graham, S. Stevenson, A. Cruden, S. Tamanivalu, B. Retallick tries; D. McKenzie 2 cons)
Blues 23 (M. Nanai, R. Ioane tries; I. West 3 pens, 2 cons)

- NZ Herald

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