March 16, 2018

Strong second half sees Gallagher Chiefs overcome Bulls

27 unanswered points in the second half has seen the Gallagher Chiefs come from behind for a thrilling 41-28 win over the Bulls in their first home match of 2018 at FMG Stadium Waikato.

The first 40 minutes belonged to the visitors, who showed their intent to play attractive running rugby and were rewarded with four tries, before the Gallagher Chiefs recovered superbly from a 14-point halftime deficit which leaves them with two wins and a loss from their opening three matches.

After a promising Gallagher Chiefs attack inside the opening 30 seconds, it was the visitors who got off to a flying start with a brilliant set piece try from near halfway in just the third minute, finished off nicely in the left-hand corner by fullback Warrick Gelant.

First five Handre Pollard nailed the conversion from out wide and the early points gave the Bulls great confidence, keeping ball in hand whenever possible and forcing the Chiefs to do plenty of defending in the opening stages.

However, a poor lineout then gave the Chiefs an opportunity to break downfield and they took full advantage. First five Tiaan Falcon's grubber kick was not covered by the defence and second five Johnny Fa'auli was on hand to pick up and cross the line, with fullback Damian McKenzie adding the extras to tie the scores.

A fine response from the Bulls saw them patiently build pressure once more on the Chiefs defence, working their way towards the line and eventually getting over with wing Divan Rossouw doing superbly to get the ball down in the tackle. Pollard was again on target from the sideline with his conversion to restore the seven-point lead.

Thanks to a mounting penalty count in their favour, the Bulls continued to enjoy all of the territory and possession, which led to their third try of the night as centre Jesse Kriel made a break and found Rossouw who dotted down for a second time.

Play began to open up as the match passed the half hour mark, with the Bulls continuing to look lively on attack but the Chiefs finally getting their hands on the ball more often.

Searching for points late in the half to get them back into the contest, the Chiefs forwards took it upon themselves to grind their way towards the line with lock Brodie Retallick the man to crash over for the five points.

McKenzie converted to make it 21-14 to the Bulls, but the response from the visitors just a minute later was simply stunning - a kick return by replacement halfback Embrose Papier split the Chiefs defence open with Kriel drawing the last defender for Pollard to score a fine try under the posts.

From the restart, the Bulls won a penalty and cleared to touch to go into the halftime break with a surprise, but very much deserved, 14-point lead.

The Chiefs started the second half fired up and immediately swung onto attack from a Retallick offload and strong run by McKenzie. After turning down a simple penalty attempt at goal, the resulting lineout saw lock Mitchell Brown get into good body position close to the line and he burrowed his way over.

Once again, the reply from the visitors was strong, with back to back chances deep in Chiefs territory seeing them go desperately close to adding a fifth try, but the defence from the home side was able to force two crucial turnovers.

This was followed by another moment of Chiefs magic as loose forward Lachlan Boshier won a turnover to launch an attack from inside his own half. A weaving run from McKenzie got the Bulls back-tracking with the ball quickly moved wide to Retallick, and the big lock went on a rampaging run from 30 metres out, throwing a dummy and running over several defenders for a sensational try - his second of the match.

McKenzie's conversion drifted wide to leave the Bulls clinging on to a two-point lead with just over a quarter of the match remaining.

As they had done right throughout the night, the visitors responded strongly to conceding points, scoring a brilliant counter attacking try but it was to be ruled out for obstruction, and proved to be a pivotal moment in the match.

Some frantic play from both sides then ended in the Chiefs winning a kickable penalty, and McKenzie made no mistake to put his side in front for the first time in the match.

Momentum was now with the Chiefs and, as they charged onto attack again, the Bulls were dealt a blow with replacement prop Conraad van Vuuren yellowed carded for a late tackle on McKenzie.

With time winding down the Chiefs were looking hungry for more points to give them breathing space, and from a set piece Fa'auli placed a pin point cross kick for wing Solomon Alaimalo to latch onto, beating the cover defence to score.

Shortly after the restart Alaimalo was nearly in again, bundled into touch just a metre short after a nice break from replacement halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.

The good field position allowed the Chiefs to finish strongly, but a knock on gave the Bulls one last chance with the final play of the game. As they looked to run it out from inside their own 22, they coughed up possession right on their own goal line and centre Anton Lienert-Brown was able to end the match with the Chiefs sixth try.

Gallagher Chiefs 41 (Brodie Retallick 2, Johnny Fa'auli, Mitchell Brown, Solomon Alaimalo, Anton Lienert-Brown tries; Damian McKenzie 4 cons, pen) Bulls 28 (Divan Rossouw 2, Warrick Gelant, Handre Pollard tries; Handre Pollard 4 cons) HT: 14-28.

Next up for the Gallagher Chiefs is a trip to Japan for their first ever away match against the Sunwolves in Tokyo, on Saturday 24 March at 5.15pm.

Strong second half sees Gallagher Chiefs overcome Bulls