A traditional rivalry is developed over time. Years, decades and sometimes a century or more–that is how the ‘Battle of the Bombays’ has built a record worth talking about. Only 90 minutes separates the regional centres [Hamilton to Auckland by car] but in tonight’s match, there was a distance in both enterprise, confrontation, duration and ultimately, in the result as their horror record continues.
Some huge statistics countered the Blues chances against a rampant Chiefs outfit. 34-11, that is the number of tries scored [to begin with] It made for horrible reading and it continues down the sheet; metres gained, clean breaks [an incredible 89/47] On viewing that, it might make fans think twice about this Tana Umaga driven Blues team but all week, any player interviewed on radio, TV or quoted in print has been very positive and upbeat. Steven Luatua was hoping for a ‘high scoring match’ and it proved true–only ever so more for one, than the other.
Blues visit Chiefs Country and Horror Record Continues
By kick-off, it was a full house. Near capacity reached, with 20,990 viewing this game and why not. An entertaining home team, the two-time champs are a real drawcard in Hamilton and the Chiefs faithful turned out in Yellow, Red and Black with only a handful of visible Blues supporters braving the confident crowd.
News spread that two changes were made to the named sides. On the home sides card, Anton Lienert-Brown was withdrawn with an infection so big Seta Tamanivalu brought his sizable frame into the centre position. Lienert-Brown was forming a combination with Charlie Ngatai, so it was bad to break that up but the busting qualities of Tamanivalu were unquestioned. He would line up against Rene Ranger.
For the visitors, it was revealed that season launch captain Jerome Kaino had been repaired to strength, wanting to start in place of Joseph Edwards. Joe was pushed out of the squad, leaving his All Blacks team mate to return to action. A timely return, with two judgments coming from this pre-match switch: 1/ Kaino asked to start as he felt fully fit, or 2/ Umaga needed some steel and a star player rather than the solid but unspectacular Edwards. Steady is good, but it won’t get you past the former Champions.
It all started well too. Ten minutes of early pressure was not how a script was supposed to go. Fans believed it might be a cake-walk but the Blues used width, having many options was important and you knew they would balance that forward determination with some good plays. Ranger was involved with many clear bursts, Rieko Ioane and Melani Nanai were their choice of attack but as that stalled and there was no reward gained, they played more centrally while the Chiefs began that way, and then got their shape after 40 minutes.
Ngatai continued his attacking presence in that half until he took a shoulder/side strain, so was pulled for the second half (with Stephen Donald returning to the frame) and in the time he was there Ngatai released one massive run in the 23rd minute, for Shaun Stevenson to score a flyers try. He was deliberate in his play tonight, not always as flashy as his mate Damian McKenzie. The powerful little guy started slow like his team did, but got into their work and did well to counter the loss of Ngatai.
Sam Cane was banged up as usual, receiving treatment but he would have been happy with the workrate of both Brodie Retallick (pictured) and Dominic Bird. Each returning from injury, Bird played out 55 minutes while Retallick is such a ‘freak’ that he played 80 minutes after time out for broken ribs! Indestructible and a very keen tackler too with 12 in all, to go with a fine locks try in the 78th minute as he went ‘up the middle’. An effortless showing that will please all NZ Rugby fans as he seemed to bounce straight into his Super Rugby work.
Tries for the Blues directly after the restart did rattle the hosts. The crowd died down and it was clear we had a game on our hands when they went ahead 10-20. The script had been thrown out, men like Charlie Faumuina (pictured) demonstrating his fine array of skills, Luatua was always in backplay to cut-short any kicks (which did not penetrate well for most of the night) for a period they were on the attack until fans noticed that the intensity of the Chiefsmana rose. Hika Elliot, Michael Leitch and company challenged the others and they won the confrontation and showed more enterprise too. McKenzie injected himself and it worked well.
Aaron Cruden, who had been ‘stood up’ by Nanai at the other end got on the board with a burrowing try in the corner and it did show a fragility that when McKenzie is off target with his kicking, it can cost points. 15-20 could have been 21-20, so Dave Rennie has something to train on but their attack was electrified and it seemed clear the question on commentators minds was “how many tries will they score?”
The bonus point system means you need to score three more tries than the opposition, so at four to two tries, one more would do it–and Retallick answered that when he went over. Fans delight was obvious and with only minutes to go, all the Blues could hope for was to score themselves. They did score, but sadly for them and for other Australasian conference teams chances of pulling in the dominant Hamilton side, it was a single penalty that earned the Aucklanders a solitary losing bonus point.
They could not stop the Gallagher Chiefs machine, and their horror story continues. Years of effort but the Southern men now hold an ascendancy over their neighbors. In quality, they outplayed the Blues over 80 plus minutes; injuries meant this was another two hour rugby match. They did not have the duration, and losing bonus points will not be enjoyed when you sit lower mid-table in the Australian conference. They must soon travel, and that part of the Blues game seems to be failing them.
The home side will be happy. A bumper crowd, and full collect of competition points but still, one more injury they were not expecting. Ngatai is knocking on All Blacks selection, so a setback for him personally is sad but for his team they did show tonight that even with a late replacement, they can perform to a high standard. They got behind on the board through two quick tries, but upped their ampo to prove the better team in another classic derby.
The long history means that every clash is vital. On the Super Rugby ladder it keeps the Chiefs at the top and the Blues a long way down, but they are a determined group and when they do click, it will be a great team to watch. Bryn Hall was good, but shaded by Webber, so the halfback role and first-five is important. West missed a couple, didn’t always take the right option and may need a rest to freshen his tanks.
With a match next week against the South African Sharks, will be a huge stage in the Blues calendar. All the very best, but tonight, a crack Chiefs side did a good job of carrying on a history of taming their mates from the big smoke’. Again.
“Main photo credit”