Chiefs Country–Taranaki Puts on a Great Welcome Back for Ngatai

With a feeling more like that of a provincial contest, rather than a large ‘production’ Super Rugby fixture, the Chiefs returned to a winning style their fans are used to. In defeating the Reds 46-17, they also reaffirmed a focus on performing to their usual high standards. A successful night in Chiefs Country, where the event is about community and welcoming favourite sons back home.

Less big town Hamilton, more close knit Yarrow Stadium, where the people look forward to this one match all season. And the Taranaki Rugby fans sure got what they were asking for. Six tries scored by the home side, and it was a great welcome back too for Charlie Ngatai.

Out for a year, the Taranaki representative was the poster boy in the match day program–and why not. His return had many believing it would revitalize the group. That was backed up by team mate Stephen Donald, who said post match that “it was awesome to have him back.”

The outcome was critical over this part of the Chiefs season. The final game before a deserved Bye, to go into the week off with a decent win is empowering. The fans will also feel that way. The troubling way the team went from the loss to the Stormers, to tougher than expected games against the Western Force and Sunwolves, meant that tonight’s six try tries to three victory was vital. It resettled some supporters nerves, and secured the third place in the New Zealand conference.

Bonus Point Win Buoys Fans in Chiefs Country

With flags waving and even some familiar cow bells ringing, it was ‘home away from home’. In many ways, the event of taking the Chiefs v Reds down to New Plymouth is healthy for the game. It had that rugbyunited value. Bringing families and supporters together–even if the Reds scored first–the men, women and children on hand, all made plans around this game.

And it was supported by a curtain raiser between two schools First XV’s: New Plymouth Boys High v Francis Douglas Memorial College. It was a fine example of how the community comes out to support sport, and the students brought colour and volume to Yarrow Stadium.

A Chiefs fan shows her support during the round 11 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Reds at Yarrow Stadium (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Once the pre-match entertainment ended, the Super Rugby action took over, and the crowd all got behind the Chiefs. Overcoming a balanced first 40 minutes, the home side completed their task in style.

Chiefs 46 – Tries: Stephen Donald (2), Kane Hames, Charlie Ngatai, Dominic Bird, James Lowe; Conversions: Damian McKenzie (5); Penalty: McKenzie
Reds 17 – Tries: Stephen Moore, Eto Nabuli, Campbell Magnay; Con: Quade Cooper

The provincial trip was a pick me up too; as much for supporters, as it was for the team. First-five Stephen Donald (see main photo) told media that “we had a few weeks of not enjoying our footy. It was a big thing this week, so we went and played cricket on Monday, and we’re just trying to get a bit more fun back into it.

“We weren’t perfect tonight, but you saw us out there tonight enjoying ourselves.”

His two tries also raised a smile from the veteran. He said his job is ‘pretty easy’. Tawera Kerr-Barlow and himself were behind a good pack, and while it took a bit to get on top of the Reds, he was pleased to play his part. With the late withdrawal of Aaron Cruden, he only found out he was starting at 9pm Thursday.

But the full effort from the side complimented the nature of the game. On a crisp night with little wind, Damian McKenzie made five out of six conversions, and was a solid rock at the back. James Lowe brought the excitement tonight, with several breaks and a great individual effort to cross the line. A successful night on attack, and Donald will have done enough to be the clubs ‘Player of the Day’.

So under the shadow of the mountain, and on a near-perfect day, fans left Yarrow Stadium buoyed by the return to ‘regular service’ from their team. No major injuries, a quality run and of course a good way to welcome back Ngatai into Chiefs country.

Charlie Ngatai Returns After One Year on the Sideline

51 caps for the Chiefs, and 64 caps for Taranaki means he is the experienced player that cannot but help the side. His quality at center was obvious, so it was reassuring for his inside-center partner Anton Lienert-Brown. They both held back the strong Queensland side [only the Campbell Magnay try, a blight on their card].

Charlie Ngatai of the Chiefs looks on during the round 11 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Reds at Yarrow Stadium (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

“It’s been a long time, and it’s good to put the boots back on and run out onto Yarrow Stadium. The build-up was probably the hardest, as it’s a step-up from club rugby”. Ngatai had played three club matches, so was thrown in and played nearly 60 minutes.

“His hamstrings tightened up, so we didn’t want to take any chances” was the answer by Rennie, on why he didn’t leave his backline in tact. “He’ll take a lot of confidence from that. but we’ve had a big run of games, just want to make sure we are sharing the load a bit.”

And having quality men like Michael Leitch, Dominic Bird, Hika Elliot and Donald and Ngatai, means the Chiefs are in a much better position than in years past. “From an injury point of view, it’s as good as we could hope for. In any other year, we’d probably have a dozen out at this time of year,” so the head coach is pleased (Brad Webber being the major player removed in pre-season).

Comebacks Not Limited to Ngatai, as Harris Gets 25 minutes

With Rennie glowing about less injuries in 2017, the sight of Nathan Harris running out in the 55th minute will have pleased many at Yarrow Stadium.

The 26 year old had recovered from injury to play his part this week. Fresh from club rugby in the Bay of Plenty, he was itching to get out on the park.

“A little bit anxious, the nerves were sort of there after halftime, amping up.”

The former All Black hooker knows that it is small steps, with himself and his coach mentioning that the surgeon is in close contact [this time]. “We’ve had good communication so everyone’s on the same page. I just wanted to take my time, because with my ankle I didn’t take my time. I’ve made sure I did a lot of hard work to make sure it was right by the surgeon.

“It’s more about just getting back out there, with the boys. With Hika there, and me being in and out, there’s a lot of competition. It’s a good environment to be in,” was his answer to questions on whether he is ready to start. And he was quick to say he was just concentrating ‘week to week’ when questioned about the British and Irish Lions match on June 20.

All Players Keen to Focus on Super Rugby

Each player and head coach, when asked about the potential selections of any Lions matches, each disgarded the thought of that game. All know that with the Bye to look at their game, and then the trip to Suva to face the Crusaders. Donald said “we’ve played our overseas teams I think, and now we go back to the local sides.

A huge task is still ahead, more so for the returning Ngatai and Harris. But after bringing ‘the Super Rugby show’ to Chiefs country, all of them know that it is the main goal for now. To both enjoy the game, and to improve. They all have the same objectives–to see the Chiefs perform. Do that, and the smiles on fans faces is all the proof needed.

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“Main photo credit”