The Gallagher Chiefs have held off a gutsy performance from the Sunwolves to record a hard fought 27-20 win on a damp Hamilton night at FMG Stadium Waikato.

In their first ever match up with the Japanese side, the Gallagher Chiefs were in a battle right throughout the match with visitors fighting back from 20-3 down to win the second half and hang on for a deserved bonus point.

The Gallagher Chiefs eighth win of the season puts them temporarily back at the top of the New Zealand conference with the Crusaders still to play and the Hurricanes on a bye.

The home side wasted little time making their mark on the match with a poor Sunwolves clearance in the opening play allowing them to apply some pressure. After hammering away for a couple of minutes the first points of the evening were scored when hooker Hika Elliot forced his way over the line.

From the restart the Sunwolves found their feet and produced a strong response. Their positive play, turning down several kickable penalties to go for the try, was unlucky not be rewarded with the Chiefs kicking out of the danger zone after over 10 minutes of Sunwolves dominance.

With their next foray into Gallagher Chiefs territory the Sunwolves this time opted to take the three points as first five Hayden Cripps converted a simple chance to get his side on the scoreboard.

Once they finally got their hands on the ball again, the Gallagher Chiefs immediately looked dangerous and after working their way downfield, some slick ball handling from the backline created space out wide for wing Solomon Alaimalo to slide over for his first Super Rugby try.

Fullback Damian McKenzie then added three points with a 40 metre penalty which looked as though it would be the last scoring of the half. But with the final play McKenzie created something out of nothing as he beat two defenders and did superbly well to maintain his balance and cross for the Gallagher Chiefs’ third try.

McKenzie completed the half by converting his own try to stretch the lead out to 20-3 at the break.

The Sunwolves desperately needed to start the second half strongly and did so, turning some aggressive defence into attack which ended in a try to halfback Fumiaki Tanaka who picked up from a ruck close to the line and forced the ball on the base of the post. 

Replacement Jamie-Jerry Taulagi added the extras to cut the deficit to 10, and Yu Tamura had a chance to close the gap even further two minutes later but his penalty attempt was wide.

After a period of solid defence inside their own half, Tamura had another penalty chance for the Sunwolves but was off target again.

As the matched neared the 60-minute mark the Gallagher Chiefs produced another piece of long range magic. Replacement wing James Lowe was put clear down the touchline and he found McKenzie in support on his outside and the young fullback, taking the pass on halfway, rounded the last defender with a brilliant swerving run to finish off a sensational counter attacking try.

It seemed as though the Gallagher Chiefs fourth try may have killed off the momentum the Sunwolves had managed to build in the opening 20 minutes of the second half, but to their credit they responded with a well worked try of their own, breaking out from halfway to score. 

Second five Derek Carpenter was the man to finish off the try with Taulagi’s conversion keeping the Sunwolves right in the match.

The visitors grew in confidence after the Carpenter try and were able to win another penalty which Taulagi kicked, narrowing the gap to seven and setting up an interesting final six minutes.

Good ball control saw the Gallagher Chiefs manage to wind down the clock before an Aaron Cruden cross kick landed in the hands of replacement Shaun Stevenson for a try to put the game beyond doubt. But after a TMO review the try was ruled out due to an earlier knock on.

As the Gallagher Chiefs went in search of a try that would seal a bonus point, there was a lengthy passage of play which ended in the Sunwolves being reduced to 13 men – a yellow card for a deliberate knock down and a red card for a shoulder charge to the head.

With the two man advantage the Gallagher Chiefs opted for a scrum just five metres out but more resolute Sunwolves defence held them up over the line to end the match.

Gallagher Chiefs 27 (Damian McKenzie 2, Hika Elliot, Solomona Alaimalo tries; Damian McKenzie 2 cons, pen) Sunwolves 20 (Fumiaki Tanaka, Derek Carpenter tries; Jamie-Jerry Taulagi 2 cons, pen, Hayden Cripps pen) HT: 20-3.

Next up for the Gallagher Chiefs is the Queensland Reds at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth (May 6, kick off 7.35pm). Tickets are available fromhttp://www.ticketdirect.co.nz/event/details/161428/gallagher-chiefs-v-reds.

Mirai and Mikako Sato are not your typical Chiefs fans: they’re next level. Rugby has been such an important part of their relationship that they chose a Chiefs-themed photoshoot over a traditional wedding ceremony.

Mirai met Mikako during the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and the couple’s favourite date nights were watching rugby at sports bars. Both grew up around the game: Mirai’s father played rugby, and Mikako followed Sanix world youth rugby from a young age.

In May 2012, their passion for the game became passion for the Chiefs when they attended their first match at FMG Stadium Waikato. Mirai had lived in Rotorua for nearly a decade, so logically he backed his region’s Super Rugby team. The pair fell in love with the live display, the stadium atmosphere, and the opportunities to get autographs and photos with the players.

This thrilling experience kept them coming back throughout the season and in the end they witnessed their beloved team win its first Super Rugby trophy in 2012.

“The final against the Sharks has to be the greatest sporting moment of my life. It was an incredible experience: the roar and chant of the crowd, 80 minutes of excitement, a whole array of emotions including tears. Words cannot quite describe the feeling. You just had to be there! It was special to see the players perform their victory haka at the end to the fans also,” said Mirai.

Ecstatic, Mirai and Mikako signed up as members for the 2013 season and have been loyal ever since: “Being Chiefs members is an integral part of our lives. Mikako and I met, engaged, married and started a family, and the Chiefs has always been present somehow in our relationship.”

Another highlight of being Chiefs members has been meeting and introducing their son Outa to all of the players at Members Day. Mirai and Mikako have their own Chiefs rugby dream for Outa in the future, wanting to see him play for the Chiefs when he is older.

Damian McKenzie and Brad Weber are Mikako’s favourite players because she loves the bravery they display every time they take the field. Mirai’s two stand out players are James Lowe and Aaron Cruden.

“James is such a skilful player, and after the games he always takes the time to chat with fans, take photos and sign autographs, he always has a big smile on his face. I actually wanted to name my son after James but my parents wouldn’t let me!

“Aaron is always the first person to start practising and the last person to leave the ground after meeting the fans after a match. He is inspiring, humble and provides great leadership.”

Mirai and Mikako say they have total respect for all the rugby players.

“They play one of the toughest sport on the planet. They need to be strong and skilful and rugby is a mental game as well. We are so grateful for watching the best rugby in the world!”

Their passion for the game has even turned Mikako’s sister in Japan into a rugby lover.

 “Mikako’s sister wasn’t interested in rugby; however, now she follows the Fukuoka Sanix Blues and flies to watch Sunwolves game in Tokyo. She’s even started playing some touch footy.”

Mirai, Mikako and Outa are confident that this year their team can claim its third Super Rugby title: “I can see Sam and Aaron are holding the trophy. I really hope to win this season to give the coaches and some players a rousing send off.”

But win or lose, the Satos will still be next-level fans: “We will support the mighty Chiefs as long as we can.”

The excitement is palpable ahead of the Gallagher Chiefs historic Round 10 match against the Sunwolves this Saturday at FMG Stadium Waikato. It is the first time these two teams will meet in Investec Super Rugby history. Following three weeks abroad, the Gallagher Chiefs are eager to play in front of their fans at home and extend a special Chiefs welcome to the Sunwolves and their loyal following.

Gallagher Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie is meeting the challenge head on naming a strong, regenerated lineup to take on Japan’s sole Super Rugby side. There are two positional changes and nine personnel changes to the starting fifteen that defeated the Western Force 16-7 last Saturday.

In the forwards, there’s a new look front row with Kane Hames and Nepo Laulala returning to the playing 23 to start in jerseys 1 and 3 respectively. Hika Elliot is promoted from the bench to start at hooker. Dominic Bird retains his place at lock for the second consecutive week, partnering with Taleni Seu who moves from the reserves to start in jersey 5. Tom Sanders rejoins the playing 23 this week to start at blindside flanker. He’s joined in the loose forwards by Mitchell Karpik who gets his second start of the season at openside flanker and co-captain Sam Cane who switches to number 8 this week.

The changes continue in the backs with Jonathan Taumateine named to make his first start for the Gallagher Chiefs at halfback. He’ll have plenty of support from experienced co-captain Aaron Cruden who starts at first five-eighth for the fifth game in a row. The two positional changes sees Sam McNicol switch from centre to the left wing, with Anton Lienert-Brown slotting into the vacated 13 jersey from second five-eighth. Stephen Donald is promoted from the bench to start in jersey 12. Solomon Alaimalo earns his second start of the season to play on the right wing and Damian McKenzie retains his spot as starting fullback.

The Gallagher Chiefs team to play the Sunwolves at 7.35pm this Saturday 29 April is:

1.            Kane Hames (16)

2.            Hika Elliot (112)

3.            Nepo Laulala (5)

4.            Dominic Bird (19)

5.            Taleni Seu (25)

6.            Tom Sanders (17)

7.            Mitchell Karpik (3)

8.            Sam Cane (87)

9.            Jonathan Taumateine (2)

10.         Aaron Cruden (co-captain) (81)

11.         Sam McNicol (14)

12.         Stephen Donald (96)

13.         Anton Lienert-Brown (32)

14.         Solomon Alaimalo (3)

15.         Damian McKenzie (41)    

RESERVES:

16.         Brayden Mitchell (4)

17.         Aidan Ross (1)

18.         Sosefo Kautai (3)

19.         Mitchell Brown (8)

20.         Liam Messam (153)

21.         Alex Nankivell (2)

22.         Shaun Stevenson (15)

23.         James Lowe (44)

() = Gallagher Chiefs caps in brackets

Unavailable for selection: Brad Weber, Mitchell Graham, Nathan Harris, Glen Fisiiahi, Tim Nanai-Williams, Liam Polwart, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Toni Pulu,  Charlie Ngatai, James Tucker, Michael Allardice, Johnny Faauli and Finlay Christie.

Gates open to this Saturday night’s match at 4.50pm in time for a unique curtain raiser featuring the New Zealand University XV vs. Kanto, from Japan, at 5pm. The entertainment extends beyond the field with a special Taiko Drum performance happening prior to the main game also. The Gallagher Chiefs Round 10 contest against the Sunwolves kicks off at 7.35pm. Tickets are available from ticketdirect.co.nz or 0800 4 CHIEFS.

Our boys are back from their tour, so what better way to welcome them back these school holidays than by coming to open training before our clash against the Sunwolves this Saturday!

Details

WHEN: TODAY ,  Thursday 27 April

TIME: 2:30pm-4:00pm

WHERE: Ruakura Training Fields, Ruakura Research Centre, 10 Bisley Road, Hamilton

Please note, you will be able to grab a quick selfie and autograph with the players at the end, but please refrain from taking photos of the actual training session. 

There will be no toilet or shade facilities at the training field.

Purchase tickets for our game against the Sunwolves this Saturday, here!

We look forward to seeing you there!