Rugby: Uninspiring Chiefs labour to victory over Sunwolves

By Kris Shannon

Chiefs 27 Sunwolves 20

Hopefully the Sunwolves enjoyed their first visit to Hamilton. The feeling won't be mutual.

Not for the city's rugby fans, at least, who were tonight forced to watch their error-prone and ill-disciplined Chiefs labour to an unconvincing victory over the last-placed Japanese side.

Those fans would have walked to the stadium wondering how many points their side would accrue. In the end, the Chiefs managed four, becoming the first Kiwi side to miss out on a bonus point against the expansion outfit.

The Sunwolves, as befitting a franchise so young, have continually improved this season and their performance tonight was easily their best when encountering New Zealand opposition.

They defended throughout with a level of determination that belied their lowly position, tackled with a level of physicality that made the first-round mauling they suffered at hands of the Hurricanes' feel like a trick of the memory.

And, just as impressively, they kept ahold of the ball, correctly surmising that possession in any part of the field was the best weapon they could employ in their defence.

But, as admirable as the Sunwolves were, the Chiefs' played a big part in their own battles.

"We made pretty hard work of it," said coach Dave Rennie. "We really battled at set piece -we got hammered at scrum time and we just couldn't get our lineout going. So that made it difficult. It was a frustrating night."

That frustration was on full display in the opening quarter, which provided an accurate hint at what was to follow

The Sunwolves spent the first 20 minutes with 70 per cent possession, winning a succession of penalties inside the Chiefs' 22 and, to their credit, initially packing down a succession of scrums.

While the strategy reaped little reward, it did deny the Chiefs a chance to launch, and it felt seemed an eternity before their third try arrived through Damian McKenzie on the stroke of halftime.

The key for the Sunwolves was sustaining their application, a task they failed in last week's loss to the Highlanders. The key for the Chiefs was to start resembling the Chiefs. And, in the second half, only one side achieved their aim.

The hosts finished the match with just 10 offloads to the Sunwolves' 15, a statistic that spoke volumes about the lack of invention and adventure in their game. A reshuffled team could assume some of the blame but there was no excusing the insipid way they attacked.

"The backline barely touched the ball tonight," Rennie said. "We carried a lot and got a lot of go-forward, but it's about getting a bit of balance."

Disappointed with his team's one-track mind in constantly picking and going around the edges, Rennie would hardly have been thrilled by the few occasions they did chance their arm.

The Chiefs dropped balls they shouldn't have, they struggled to puncture the defensive line with any regularity, they never built enough pressure to tire the Sunwolves' defence. It was as uncharacteristic as it was uninspiring.

Neither of those attributes described McKenzie's second, a special solo burst to cap a rare counter-attack, but that try was the exception rather than the rule.

And it was the Chiefs' last, even failing to put points on 13 men, with the Sunwolves shown a card of each colour after the hooter had sounded. The night, appropriately enough, ended with the Chiefs held up over the line.

Chiefs 27 (H. Elliot, S. Alaimalo, D. McKenzie 2 tries; D. McKenzie pen, 2 cons)
Sunwolves 20 (F. Tanaka; D. Carpenter; H. Cripps pen, J. Taulagi 2 cons, pen)
Halftime: 20-3

- NZ Herald

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