May 26, 2018

Gallagher Chiefs keep themselves in the hunt with win over Waratahs

The Gallagher Chiefs have overcome a fast start from the Waratahs to record a crucial 39-27 win at FMG Stadium Waikato to keep themselves right in the Super Rugby playoff hunt.

After falling behind 14-0 early in the first half, the Gallagher Chiefs kept their composure to fight back with 19 unanswered points, and then survived a wild second half to secure a bonus point win with the final play of the match.

The visitors started the match in fine style, dominating field position in the opening minutes, before a well worked set piece move from the Waratahs backline saw wing Cam Clark put into plenty of space to score the first points of the match.

There was a nice response from the Chiefs as they swiftly went on the attack, keeping the ball in hand to pressure the Waratahs defence, but a ruck penalty relieved the pressure.

On the back of that penalty, another set piece play from the Waratahs split the Chiefs defence wide open as centre Curtis Rona was put into a gap by his midfield partner Kurtley Beale, and he raced away to score right next to the posts.

First five Bernard Foley converted both early tries for a 14-0 lead after just 13 minutes of play.

Once more the response from the Chiefs was positive, and a patient build up of 10 phases ended in first five Damian McKenzie finding Brodie Retallick with a pass close to the line, and the big lock ran through untouched to score under the posts.

The Chiefs looked a lot stronger following the Retallick try and were able to pin the Waratahs deep in their own half for the next 10 minutes. Quick thinking from veteran Liam Messam saw him pick up a loose ball at the back of a Waratahs ruck, before offloading to hooker Nathan Harris who was in support to score the try.

McKenzie's conversion hit the upright to leave the Waratahs in front 14-12 after half an hour.

With some momentum now on their side, the Chiefs launched another scintillating attack from a lineout on halfway, with no less than seven offloads eventually ending in McKenzie tumbling his way over the line to give the Chiefs their first lead of the evening.

There was more good ball movement from the Chiefs late in the half but no more points were added and the home side went into the break with a five-point lead.

Early in the second half a piece of brilliance from Waratahs fullback Israel Folau, claiming a high ball, ended in a try in the left-hand corner, but it was ruled out because of a forward pass. Under penalty advantage however, Foley was able to close the gap up to 19-17 with a kick from right in front.

As they had done in the first half, the Chiefs responded superbly to conceding points. An initial break from Sean Wainui down the left wing started the attack, with the ball then moved quickly to Toni Pulu's wing on the right and, after backtracking to gather a loose pass, Pulu beat two defenders with a smooth swerve and fend to score the Chiefs fourth try.

The match continued to swing back and forth as the Waratahs quickly got themselves right back in the game. From 20 metres out Kurtley Beale found a half gap and took full advantage, sprinting to the corner to slide over for the try with Foley's conversion from out wide levelling the scores.

It didn't take long for the Chiefs to regain the lead as just minutes later halfback Brad Weber spotted some space in behind the Waratahs defence and his well-placed kick from 45 metres out allowed Pulu to easily get past the forwards defending out wide to score his second try.

With 15 minutes remaining the Waratahs went close to scoring their fourth try, denied by some desperate Chiefs defence, but were able to come away with another Foley penalty, bringing them back to within two points to set up a tense finish.

Some great ball control under pressure then allowed the Chiefs to wind the clock down to just six minutes remaining, ending with a McKenzie penalty which gave some breathing space.

Another superb piece of skill to take the kick off in the air from Folau saw the Waratahs charge onto attack once more, but a crucial turnover was made by Retallick, allowing the Chiefs to clear back up over halfway.

With time up on the clock, the Chiefs just had to kick to touch to seal the win but Damian McKenzie had other ideas, spotting a gap and slipping a tackle to break away and score a bonus point try with the final play of the match.

Gallagher Chiefs 39 (Toni Pulu 2, Damian McKenzie 2, Brodie Retallick, Nathan Harris tries; McKenzie 3 cons, pen) Waratahs 27 (Cam Clark, Curtis Rona, Kurtley Beale tries; Bernard Foley 3 cons, 2 pens) HT: 19-14.

The Gallagher Chiefs are back at home again next weekend to take on the Crusaders (Saturday 2 June, kick off 7.35pm), their final match before the June international break.

Gallagher Chiefs keep themselves in the hunt with win over Waratahs