The Gallagher Chiefs have backed up their opening round win with a dominant display against the Blues at FMG Stadium Waikato, cruising to a 41-26 victory in 2017’s first edition of the Battle of the Bombays.
With a red card reducing the visitors to 14 men just before halftime, the Chiefs turned it on in front of a large crowd of local fans in the first home game of the season, with three tries in each half sending them on their way to a comfortable bonus point win.
Proceedings started with a rousing reception for Chiefs captain Aaron Cruden who took the field for his 100th Super Rugby match, but it was an encouraging start from the Blues as back to back penalties in the first two minutes led to the opening points from the boot of first five Ihaia West.
The Chiefs wasted no time in responding as they immediately put pressure on the Blues defence with halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow taking a quick tap from a penalty right in front of the posts, and a second penalty close to line ended in a try from a lineout maul to veteran Liam Messam.
More good territory for the Blues saw two more penalties in kicking range for West and he made no mistake with both attempts to put the visitors back in front.
Unforced errors were halting the Chiefs momentum on attack but when they did hang onto the ball they looked dangerous. A superbly timed pass from big Dominic Bird then put wing Tim
Nanai-Williams into space and the slick movement was eventually finished near the left hand corner by fullback Damian McKenzie.
Cruden slotted the conversion just five metres in from the touchline, and from the restart the momentum continued in the Chiefs favour with prop Kane Hames getting revenge for an earlier conceded scrum penalty, winning one of his own which Cruden turned into another three points.
The Blues had a couple of golden chances to narrow the gap after a rough patch of play throughout the middle of the half, but West missed two penalties from in front - his easiest chances of the night.
With the first 40 minutes drawing to a close a brilliant sniping run from Kerr-Barlow saw him go desperately close to scoring but he had the ball knocked out as he looked to place it over the line. In back play however was a huge moment in the match with Blues loose forward Steven Luatua given a red card for an off the ball swinging arm around the head of Nanai-Williams.
The Chiefs took full advantage with the penalty leading to another unstoppable lineout maul and this time it was hooker Hika Elliot the man to dot down. Cruden’s conversion ended the half and pushed the Chiefs out to a convincing 22-9 lead.
After the halftime break the Chiefs made the best possible start when just two minutes after the resumption flanker Lachlan Boshier capped a strong performance with a pick and go try which blew the lead out to 20 points.
Moments later the Chiefs were in again when a well worked move off a lineout saw Cruden give a classy tapped pass back inside to wing James Lowe who danced his way through the defence to score under the posts.
Subs from the Blues gave them a much needed injection of energy, but the Chiefs weathered the brief storm and launched a long range attack downfield which resulted in a try to centre Anton Lienert-Brown to take the score past 40 points with still over 20 minutes to play.
To their credit the Blues fought back well in the final quarter and there was finally something for their fans to cheer about when replacements Patrick Tuipulotu and Charlie Faumuina crashed over for a couple of quick tries to give some respectability to the score line.
Coach Dave Rennie emptied his bench for the final 15 minutes, taking off several key performers including Cruden, Kerr-Barlow and Brodie Retallick, and the Blues took advantage with yet another replacement, Rene Ranger, finishing strongly in the right hand corner.
Despite the late flurry of Blues points, the result was never in doubt with the Chiefs’ point scoring burst early in the second half ensuring a perfect two bonus point wins from two outings to start the campaign.
Gallagher Chiefs 41 (Liam Messam, Damian McKenzie, Hika Elliot, Lachlan Boshier, James Lowe, Anton Lienert-Brown tries; Aaron Cruden 4 cons, pen) Blues 26 (Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina, Rene Ranger tries; Ihaia West con, 3 pens) HT: 22-9.
The Gallagher Chiefs are back at home again next weekend to take on last year’s Super Rugby champions – the Hurricanes. Kick off at FMG Stadium Waikato is once again 7.35pm on Friday night and tickets are available from http://www.ticketdirect.co.nz/event/details/153984/gallagher-chiefs-v-hurricanes.