McKenzie brilliance too much for Sunwolves
SUPER RUGBY REPORT: The Chiefs managed a hard-earned 27-20 win over the Sunwolves in Hamilton on Saturday, to cement their place in the play-off zone.
However, it was not as convincing as pundits had claimed it would be and the Chiefs also squandered a late opportunity to secure a bonus point.
It required a couple of moments of brilliance from fullback Damian McKenzie - who contributed two tries, two conversions and a penalty to his team's total - to get the home side over the line.
"We're winning ugly," Chiefs captain Sam Cane admitted as one of the leading sides in the competition struggled to hold off the worst performing team.
For much of the game, the unfancied Sunwolves tore up the form book and were the dominant side as they humbled the Chiefs' forwards in the set pieces and floored the Waikato backs with crunching tackles.
But the outcome was settled when the Chiefs piled on 15 points to close out the first half.
The Sunwolves, from being a slender 5-3 behind after the first quarter, found themselves trailing 20-3 at half-time.
They came back to win the second half 17-7 but could not completely close the gap.
"A tough match is a good way to put," Cane said.
"The Sunwolves came to play. They're adventurous, they throw the ball around, and gee they play with some courage and they put us under pressure.
"But we got the win. We're winning ugly at the moment which is tough for us."
It was a bold effort by the Sunwolves whose maiden visit to New Zealand had seen them lose 3-50 to the Crusaders and 15-40 to the Highlanders.
Another high score seemed on the cards when Hika Elliot scored for the Chiefs in the third minute but the Sunwolves had other ideas.
They controlled the next 20 minutes, during which they won four penalties inside the Chiefs' 22, although referee Will Houston did not find this excessive and there was no warning issued.
After battering away at the line for no reward, the Sunwolves took the points with a fifth penalty which flyhalf Hayden Cripps converted.
Relief for the Chiefs came when McKenzie combined with Aaron Cruden to send Solomon Alaimalo over for a try.
He added a penalty and then beat three defenders to score and convert himself as the Chiefs pulled away to a 20-3 lead at the break.
A revived Sunwolves took control at the start of the second half and were rewarded with a try to Fumiaki Tanaka.
When McKenzie added his second try for the Chiefs, Derek Carpenter responded with a second for the Sunwolves which was converted by Jamie-Jerry Taulagi who also landed a penalty.
With time up and the Chiefs pressing for a bonus point try, the Sunwolves had Carpenter sin-binned for a deliberate knock down and Taulagi was red-carded for a shoulder charge.
Man of the match: Derek Carpenter, Edward Quirk, Sam Wykes and Willem Britz were the players providing the energy for the Sunwolves. Sam Cane, Dominic Bird and Hika Elliot also worked very hard for the Chiefs. However, it was the brilliance of Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie that swung this match and he gets our award.
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Elliot, Alaimalo, McKenie 2
Cons: McKenzie 2
For the Sunwolves:
Tries: Tanaka, Carpenter
Cons: Taulagi 2
Pens: Cripps, Taulagi
Yellow card: Derek Carpenter (Sunwolves, 83 - cynical foul, deliberate knockdown)
Red card: Jamie-Jerry Taulagi (Sunwolves, 83 - foul play, shoulder to the head)
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Solomon Alaimalo, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 Sam McNicol, 10 Aaron Cruden (captain), 9 Jonathan Taumateine, 8 Sam Cane, 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Taleni Seu, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Mitchell Brown, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Alex Nankivell, 22 Shaun Stevenson, 23 James Lowe.
Sunwolves: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Teruya Goto, 13 William Tupou, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Yasutaka Sasakura, 10 Hayden Cripps, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Willem Britz, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Edward Quirk, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Shinya Makabe, 3 Heiichiro Ito, 2 Takeshi Kizu, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Koki Yamamoto, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Rahboni Vosayaco, 21 Yuki Yatomi, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.
Referee: Will Houston (Australia)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Richard Kelly (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)