Taumalolo plays battering ram in Chiefs win
"He scores when he wants!" – it's a chant best associated this season with Arsenal striker Robin van Persie but Chiefs prop Sona Taumalolo can rightly lay claim to rugby's version of admiration for his prolificacy.
The front-rower scored two tries yesterday morning (NZ time) to propel the Chiefs to a 39-33 win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein and to the top of the Super Rugby table after eight rounds.
It was the Chiefs' second win in a row away from home and came courtesy of five tries and another fine goal-kicking display from Aaron Cruden.
But Taumalolo was front and centre again, twice burrowing over from close range in the second half as the Chiefs came back from a scoring barrage from the home side to gain the maximum five points. The irresistible force proved too much for the Cheetahs' defence as he notched up his fifth and sixth tries of the campaign, which made him Super Rugby's top try-scorer for 2012 to date.
"He has a pretty keen nose for the tryline," said delighted Chiefs coach Dave Rennie.
"He's hungry to get the ball in his hands in those situations. We know how hard to stop he is, and try and work towards that."
Taumalolo was twice the beneficiary of patient buildup work from his team-mates. His first try capped off a sensational length-of-the-field attack by the Chiefs early in the second spell after spending a number of minutes defending their own line stoutly. His second came following an attacking lineout and put the Chiefs in front for good with 12 minutes remaining.
Rennie said the talismanic Tongan deserved credit for what he brought to the Chiefs throughout 80 minutes.
"He's infectious and has a tremendous celebration when he scores. But it's not just that – he got around the ground really well and tackled well too."
It was another well-rounded display by a side that has now won six in a row after dropping their first match of the season. They had the wood on the Cheetahs at scrum time after a shaky start. Brodie Retallick and co-captain Craig Clarke grabbed key lineout ball and the tackling was sound.
Cruden drew praise from Rennie for his guidance of the backline, which contributed the other three tries through Lelia Masaga, Sonny Bill Williams – his first for the Chiefs in the competition – and fellow All Black Richard Kahui.
"Aaron showed that ability to find space in behind the line, to kick long to the corners, and nudge the ball in behind them – he ran the ship well," Rennie said. "He missed a shot at goal, though, so the team has given him some grief about that," Rennie chided.
The decision to play Andrew Horrell at fullback proved a success, as his kick-return set up the opening try for Masaga.
"He was very strong – he kicked well, countered well, and we would have liked to have got a bit more ball in his hands," Rennie said.
Alex Bradley's toiling effort in his first start at No8 was also appreciated by Rennie, who said his side stayed composed when required.
Despite having much the better of the first 40 minutes, the Chiefs only led 10-9 and when an intercept try by substitute flanker Ashley Johnson helped the Cheetahs on their way to a 25-20 lead midway through the second spell, the visitors refused to be rattled,
"We dominated the first half in almost everything but we couldn't get beyond one or two phases," a frustrated Rennie said.
"But there was a lot of composure in the changing room at halftime and we knew we could get the points if we played at the right end of the field."