Damian McKenzie scored 14 points as the Chiefs claimed a 24-19 victory over the Brumbies in Hamilton on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
The victory moves the Chiefs up to second in the New Zealand conference standings and guarantees them a place in the playoffs.
Mathematically, the Brumbies can still qualify for the knockout stage, but to do so they’ll have to beat the Waratahs in Sydney next Saturday and rely on other results to go their way.
Nothing but execution separated these sides. The territory and possession stakes were fairly even, but they both struggled to get momentum and fluidity in their game. When they did get in good positions, the visitors were unable to convert. They did mount a late fightback, but ultimately came up short.
By contrast, the Chiefs were more efficient and clinical, with McKenzie leading the charge. The flyhalf run 151m, made 12 carries and four linebreaks to go with his try, three conversions and penalty.
After a quiet opening 10 minutes, the Chiefs hit their stride and raced out to a 17-point lead thanks to a penalty and two converted tries by hooker Nathan Harris and McKenzie. The first effort, by Harris, was a classic Chiefs score where every ball-carrier left the opposition’s defensive line open mercilessly. The second originated from a brilliant counter-attack and with the Brumbies defence at sixes and sevens, McKenzie ran around Rory Arnold to dot down.
The second half was a real tussle of wills as the Brumbies desperately fought to keep their season alive. In the 55th minute, Henry Speight opened the Brumbies’ account and suddenly they found a spark.
From the restart, David Pocock broke out from inside the 22. The ball was shifted wide quickly and they almost scored again, but the Chiefs were all too happy to rather concede a penalty than a try. After opting for a scrum, scrumhalf Joe Powell’s lofted pass was intercepted by McKenzie. And although Tom Banks tracked back well to make a try-saving tackle, his effort was only a delaying mechanism as the Chiefs kept the ball alive and eventually scored through Johnny Fa’auli.
Trailing 24-5, the Brumbies were given a reprieve when the Chiefs were reduced to 14 players and they made excellent use of the numerical advantage. Banks and Speight went over in quick succession to make it a five-point game with six minutes remaining.
There was still time for one last Brumbies attack, but the game ended with a contentious knock-on call against the visitors by referee Rasta Rasivhenge.
Chiefs – Tries: Nathan Harris, Damian McKenzie, Johnny Fa’auli. Conversions: McKenzie (3). Penalty: McKenzie.
Brumbies – Tries: Henry Speight (2), Tom Banks. Conversions: Wharenui Hawera (2).
Chiefs – 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Sean Wainui, 12 Charlie Ngatai (co-c), 11 Shaun Stevenson, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane (co-c), 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Subs: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Johnny Fa’auli.
Brumbies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Andy Muirhead, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 David Pocock, 6 Tom Cusack, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Faingaa, 1 Nic Mayhew.
Subs: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Les Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Lachlan McCafferey, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Wharenui Hawera, 23 Lausii Taliauli.
Photo: Michael Bradley/Getty Images