Fortune favours the brave
The Chiefs cemented their place at the top of the New Zealand conference with a bonus-point 36-20 win over the Stormers in Hamilton on Friday.
In a tight first half the Stormers managed to hang in there, trailing just 6-10 shortly before the break, before two quick tries forced the visitors to play catch-up.
And the Stormers came close to upsetting the two-time defending champions - closing the gap to 20-24, but another two-try blitz inside the final five minutes put the match beyond the reach of the Cape Town-based franchise.
The Chiefs put on display their full array of attacking moves, looking to run the Stormers' huge forwards off their feet.
And they had plenty of success in avoiding an arm-wrestle and making it an expansive contest of real rugby skills - some of the most sublime off-loads you will see anywhere.
In fact the only aspect where the Stormers managed to make a contest of it was in the scrums, where the men from Cape Town managed to win a few free kicks and even a penalty.
There was a glimmer of hope, a couple brief moments when the Stormers showed they can score tries - first when Gio Aplon sprinted through a gap after a great pass from Damian de Allende and then when through some solid phase play Nizaam Carr went over.
But for most part they were a dour defensive unit, who unusually slipped a few too many tackles and made poor decisions - such as Damian de Allende's ill-timed chip-kick attempt that gifted the Chiefs their four-try bonus point.
They say fortune favours the brave and the Chiefs have a double dosage of good fortune in the first half.
Demetri Catrakilis (second minute) and Aaron Cruden (fourth minute) exchanged early penalties, before the home team got their first big break.
The Chiefs, attacking with vigour, saw a grubber bounce off a Stormers defender and then a lucky bounce off the back of Tom Marshall back heel allowing him to gather and pass out to James Low - who slid over in the corner.
Right on the half-time hooter it was a Stormers hand that 'gifted' the Chiefs their second try - the TMO ruling the ball was knocked back while the Chiefs were again attacking furiously inside the Stormers 22. Rhys Marshall was the man who dotted down.
Cruden, who kicked a penalty in between the two tries, added both conversions to make it 17-6 for the home team at the break.
The second half was hardly two minutes old when the TMO again ruled in favour of the Chiefs - this time there was "no clear and obvious evidence" of a knock-on and awarded a try to Tawera Kerr-Barlow. It has to be said that the score had its origins in an attempted Stormers clearance kick being charged down. Cruden's conversion made it 24-6 - leaving the home team with a mountain to climb.
The Stormers gave themselves a glimmer of hope - Gio Aplon scoring a great set-piece try in the 61st minutes, after a great off-load from Damian de Allende and then Nizaam Carr (73rd minute) going over after some solid phase play.
At 20-24 it looked like an upset was on the cards.
However, a brain explosion - as De Allende went from hero to villain in a flash - gifted Tevita Koloamatangi the bonus-point try, before Tanerau Latimer marked his 100th game with a try from a maul that rubbed salt into the festering Stormers wounds by giving them a good dosage of their own medicine.
Cruden kicked the one conversion, but Latimer was less successful when he attempted to convert his own five-pointer - making the final score 36-20.
Man of the match: As was expected, Stormers and Springbok flank Schalk Burger was the busiest of the visitors, while Nizaam Carr made an impact after coming on as a replacement and Duane Vermeulen won a couple of crucial turnovers. Liam Messam always makes a contribution for the Chiefs, while Tom Marshall had his moments .The Chiefs halfback combination of Aaron Cruden and Tawera Kerr-Barlow provided that spark that fired up the Chiefs' attack in that manic first half. However, our award goes to the Chiefs' All Black lock Brodie Retallick - who provided the muscle and disrupted the Stormers' maul very effectively.
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Lowe, Marshall, Kerr-Barlow, Koloamatangi, Latimer
Cons: Cruden 4
For the Stormers:
Tries: Aplon, Carr
Cons: Catrakilis 2
Pens: Catrakilis 2
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Tom Marshall, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Michael Fitzgerald, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Brad Webber, 22 Robbie Fruean, 23 Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Siya Kolisi, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Sailosi Tagicakibau.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant, Shane McDermott
TMO: Ben Skeen