March 02, 2018

Gallagher Chiefs clinch fantastic win over the Blues in Auckland

A gutsy come from behind performance by the injury depleted Gallagher Chiefs has seen them come away from Eden Park with a 27-21 win over the Blues for their first win of the Investec Super Rugby season.

The Gallagher Chiefs travelled to Auckland with no less than 15 players unavailable for selection due to injury, which was made even worse by the late withdrawals of Brodie Retallick and Shaun Stevenson, causing reshuffles in both the forwards and backs just minutes before kick-off. But an inspired 15 minutes to start the second half helped them overturn a halftime deficit for a thrilling four tries to three win.

Following the pre-game disruptions, the opening minutes were just what the Chiefs needed as they showed encouraging signs on attack with most of the team getting their hands on the ball.

However, it was the home side who struck first, working their way downfield with hooker James Parsons and halfback Augustine Pulu combining close to the line for the first try of the night.

Damian McKenzie, after missing a simple penalty attempt, then sparked a dangerous Chiefs attack, finding wing Solomon Alaimalo after a strong kick return. The play broke down close to the line but they capitalised on the good field position moments later with Number 8 Taleni Seu dotting down following a good carry from wing Sean Wainui.

The middle of the first half was dominated by the Blues and, after holding on desperately for several minutes, the Chiefs defence was breached again with Number 8 Akira Ioane charging his way to and over the line from 20 metres out.

Once more there was an instant response from the Chiefs with Alaimalo setting Anton Lienert-Brown clear down the left sideline, and two phases later Lienert-Brown found Wainui who broke through the last defender and scored in the corner.

More good field position followed for the Chiefs and back to back penalties saw them apply plenty of pressure on the Blues line, but the home side were stern in defence.

The final 10 minutes of the first half was physical and highly entertaining, with plenty of big tackles and long-range attacks from both sides, but in the end neither team added to their earlier scoring and the Blues took a four-point lead into the break.

A brilliant break out in the first 30 seconds of the second half saw the Chiefs go very close to scoring, coming up just inches from the line on a number of occasions, and a ruck penalty allowed the Blues to clear.

Tiaan Falcon, a late replacement following the injury to Shaun Stevenson, then showed a touch of class to slip through a gap but the final pass was lost in the tackle.

The early dominance from the Chiefs finally turned into points with a rolling maul seeing flanker Sam Cane get it down over the line to put his side in front, with McKenzie's conversion making it a three-point lead.

From the restart, a loose Blues offload was pounced on by halfback Brad Weber and he scampered away from the halfway line for a second Chiefs try in as many minutes. A McKenzie penalty soon after made it 17 unanswered points in the first 15 minutes of the second half.

Desperately needing a reply to the Chiefs flurry of points, a patient build up from the Blues was eventually finished off with a nice dummy close to the line from first five Bryn Gatland, and he converted his own try from under the posts to narrow the Chiefs lead to six.

With the Blues sensing their opportunity against a tiring Chiefs defence, they went on the attack once more but conceded a scrum penalty which relieved the danger as the match headed into the final 10 minutes.

As time began to run out for the Blues they continued to apply pressure but timely turnovers by the Chiefs, and some brilliant tactical kicking for field position by McKenzie, ensured they kept their slim lead intact.

A penalty with two minutes remaining for an early tackle then gave the home side a great chance with a lineout starting 20 metres from the try line, but a collapsed maul yet again earned the Chiefs a crucial turnover.

Just needing to clear to touch to end the game, the Chiefs then managed to turn the ball over themselves to set up a frantic finish, which was finally ended when a Blues lineout was thrown not straight to end a pulsating match.

Gallagher Chiefs 27 (Taleni Seu, Sean Wainui, Sam Cane, Brad Weber tries; Damian McKenzie 2 cons, pen) Blues 21 (Augustine Pulu, Akira Ioane, Bryn Gatland tries; Gatland 3 cons) HT: 10-14.

The Gallagher Chiefs now get a chance to sort out some of their injury problems as they head into a bye week, before hosting the Bulls at FMG Stadium Waikato for their opening home game of the season on Friday 16 March.

Gallagher Chiefs clinch fantastic win over the Blues in Auckland