Tikoirotuma scores four, Chiefs avoid upset

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 21:30 02/06/2012
Mahonri Schwalger
GRAHAME COX/Fairfax NZ
CAUGHT: Chiefs hooker Mahonri Schwalger is tackled by Blues wing Lachie Munro during the first half of their Super Rugby match at North Harbour Stadium.
Asaeli Tikoirotuma
Photosport
TO THE FOUR: Wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma (right) celebrates one of this four tries in the Chiefs' 41-34 victory over the Blues at North Harbour Stadium.

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Second-last played first-place.

Almost the worst, verses the top dog. Yeah right, the Blues said.

Few predicted the Blues would get this close. It took four tries from Chiefs wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma to deny a massive, monumental upset at North Harbour Stadium tonight.

Credit must go to the composure and character the Chiefs mustered with six absentees in the face on a relentless challenge, but this match will be remembered for the stunning form reversal of Pat Lam's men.

They have endured a horror season with only two wins. Yet you would have never have guessed those statistics on this evidence.

Heading into a three-week break, the Chiefs will breath a collective sigh of relief. The burning question for the Blues is was this a one-off aberration, or a long-awaited turning point.

Piri Weepu didn't even get a look in. The Blues didn't want to disrupt their roll.

It's a strange, preposterous scenario when red-and-black supporters get in behind any Auckland-affiliated team. But those in Crusaders territory were rooting for the Blues with Todd Blackadder's men hoping to close in on the Chiefs' pole position.

A whopping 36-points separated them on the table but, with the return of dangerous strike weapons Rene Ranger and Rudi Wulf, there was a feeling the Blues would rise for their neighbourhood rival. They did that and some.

They were crowing south of the Bombay Hills with their record-breaking campaign - and fans flocked north in their droves to bolster a bumper 20,200 crowd - but the Chiefs were reminded nothing is ever a given as the Blues defied logic to push the competition leaders to the brink.

From the moment in-form centre Francis Saili, who limped off the second-spell, skipped out of Aaron Cruden's tackle, the Blues signalled they were a different beast, one that had found their absent confidence and self-belief. Yes, there were even touches of panache and enterprise, from the havoc-causing Ranger and Wulf.

Ranger, in particular, couldn't have made more impact in his comeback match. He scored a stunning solo second-half try that levelled the enthralling slug-feast and gave the Blues a sniff of an unlikely upset. Wulf also celebrated his 50th match with a try.

There were three yellow cards in the heated encounter. Two for almost identical offenses - Blues flanker Steven Luatua and rookie Chiefs wing Maritino Nemani were sin-binned for lifting tackles - which threw this willing contest wide open.

But it was Michael Fitzgerald's second-half moment of madness that put the Chiefs under immense, unnecessary, pressure. The hot-heated lock lashed out with a flurry of punches after taking exception to a minor altercation with Peter Saili. He looks set for a lengthy stint on the sidelines, but, more importantly, Fitzgerald handed the home side a free pass.

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Sonny Bill Williams took the midfield honours in his battle with Ma'a Nonu with an impossible show of strength for his third try of the season, but it was Tikoirotuma who stole the show with clinical finishing that defying his green status.

The gutsy bonus-point win sealed the Chiefs' playoffs spot. They will now be looking to secure home advantage and hold off the Crusaders' intense pursuit.

Highlight Reel: With the Blues hot on attack, the Chiefs' length-of-the counter-attacking try which went the length of the field and through six sets of hands was the turning point that sunk a spirited resistance. Michael Fitzgerald's flurry of punches will also see him set for a lengthy stint on the sideline.

Superman: Considering he was playing Heartland Championship last year, Asaeli Tikoirotuma has been a revelation for on the wing for the Chiefs. His epic four-try display was just reward for clinical finishing.

Status Update: The Chiefs remain top of the log and book their spot in the playoffs. The Blues take two well deserved bonus points and regained some much-needed pride.

Chiefs 41 (Asaeli Tikoirotuma 4, Sonny Bill Williams tries, Aaron Cruden pen 2, con 5) Blues 34 (Francis Saili, Lachie Munro, Rudi Wulf, Rene Ranger tries, Munro con 4, pen 2). HT: 20-20

- Fairfax Media

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