The Chiefs ground out a 7-16 win against the Force at nib Stadium in Perth and will return to New Zealand with two wins from three matches on their travels.
This was not a spectacle, more an arm-wrestle which, when all things are considered, is a testament to the coaching of the home team by Dave Wessels.
The South African-born coach had a plan for the breakdown and territorial a tactic of playing opposition’s half.
His side’s defensive effort must be credited because if they missed tackles and conceded tries, the planning goes out the window.
However, the Chiefs found a way to combat the Force and only their profligacy with the ball in hand and poor discipline, kept them from winning by a bigger margin.
The Chiefs had three tries ruled out for handling errors but did just enough to edge their hosts, thanks to Aaron Cruden’s boot.
The World Cup winner was the difference on the scoreboard; he kicked three second-half penalties to add to a conversion and a match haul of 11 points.
The visitors took an early 7-0 lead thanks to Liam Messam but, the Australians hit back near half time, through skipper Matt Hodgson and the teams went into the break level at 7-all.
The game was littered with handling errors and both sides managed multiple phases of seven plays or more on only four occasions.
The Chiefs were on their way back home from their South African tour and had a stop-over in Western Australia before they return to Waikato which, might have accounted for their lethargic performance.
Wessels’ side had only won two games this season and most would not have given them a chance against the Kiwis, who have been sensational and lost only once – against the Stormers away.
The game started in the worst possible manner; Ian Prior missed a third-minute penalty before Messam’s sixth-minute try and Cruden’s conversion, made the miss a 10-point swing.
The Chiefs moved the ball to midfield before Cruden’s break set in motion, the flanker’s score. The standoff charged into the opposition’s territory found a support runner in Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
The scrumhalf looked for a supporting runner and probably expected a backline player on his shoulder, instead, it was Siegfried Fisi’ihoi on his inside. The prop forward is stopped short but, after a quick ruck, Messam crashes over
The prop forward was stopped short but, after a quick ruck, Messam picked up the ball at the breakdown and crashed over for what has become a typically stunning score from the Waikato team.
The ease with which the visitors carved open the Force defence, one would have thought the game would turn into a rout. It was not to be.
The Chiefs were committing numerous handling errors – eight inside 30 minutes – and infringements at the scrum and breakdown.
Richard Hardwick and his captain Hodgson were causing problems at the ruck for the visitors, winning penalties to halt the attacking team’s momentum and disrupting their rhythm.
Fisi’ihoi was penalised for collapsing the scrum, the Force kicked to touch, won another penalty and kicked deep into their opponent’s half.
Ross Haylett-Petty collected Tatafu Polota-Nau’s throw and set up the driving maul. The Force peeled left and splintered from the base, charged forward 10 metres and Hodgson dotted down.
Prior’s conversion tied the scores and the two teams went into the shed all square at 7-7.
The second period saw both sides start to build some multi-phase plays yet, ultimately, the moves broke down due to handling mistakes or infringements at the rucks.
Cruden kicked two penalties inside 55 minutes to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
By now, the Chiefs were starting to find their mojo and were camped inside the Force’s half but, could not find a way to cross the whitewash.
On 67 minutes, Cruden added his third penalty after having a try disallowed. The All black playmaker was adjudged by referee Nic Berry, to have taken the quick-tap from in front of the mark.
On the second viewing, it looked a harsh call because the penalty was taken from the same spot. No matter as Cruden extended his team’s lead to two scores.
As the clock ticked down, the Force had to start playing from deep and take chances.
Marcel Brache made two bad errors inside his half, one killing a promising move, which all but killed off their chance of an unlikely win as the Kiwis held on.
Wessels and his team will feel this was a game they could of and might have won, but did not.
Final score Force 7 (7) Chiefs 16 (7)
Tries – Hodgson
Con – Prior
Tries – Messam
Pen – Cruden (3)
Con – Cruden
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant Ref 1: Will Houston
Assistant Ref 2: Graham Cooper
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore
15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Curtis Rona, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Bill Meakes, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Luke Burton, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Isi Naisarani, 5 Ross Haylett-Petty, 4 Lewis Carmichael*, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Francois Van Wyk, 18 Pek Cowan, 19 Onehunga Havilli, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Mitch Short**, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Alex Newsome.
*Denotes Super Rugby Debut
**Potential Super Rugby Debut
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Sam McNicol, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Aidan Ross**, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Toni Pulu
**denotes Super Rugby debut