Kahui's return bittersweet for the Chiefs

ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Richard Kahui was at his classy best as the Chiefs beat the Blues.
ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Richard Kahui was at his classy best as the Chiefs beat the Blues.

Whoever it was at the New Zealand Rugby Union that let Richard Kahui slip through the net, give yourself an uppercut. The classy Chiefs midfielder is a defection the Kiwi game can ill-afford.

That much was glaringly obvious as the 27-year-old with the pinup looks and destructive game produced the star turn as the Chiefs ground down the Blues, two tries to one, on their annual visit to Mt Maunganui.

In his first start this season after a delayed entry forced by yet another shoulder reconstruction, Kahui's class was evident throughout a mostly dominant Chiefs performance that on another night could have served up a much more one-sided scoreline.

It was heartening indeed to see Kahui charging on to ball at full pace, producing precision tackles when needed and, midway through the second half, reading play superbly to charge down an attempted clearance and put the game beyond doubt.

Heartening, yes. But frustrating too, considering that Kahui's talents will benefit Japanese rugby after this competition ends, and not the All Blacks where he clearly belongs.

Otherwise, coach Dave Rennie would not have been best pleased with a performance that was scratchy to say the least as the Chiefs struggled to convert territory and possession into points en route to a fourth straight victory over the Blues.

The Chiefs should have won this at a canter. They left close to a half-dozen tries out on the paddock and let the Blues stay in this contest for far too long.

To the Blues' credit they hung tough under immense pressure. But they were also their own worst enemies at times with their inability to clear and work into enemy territory.

Still, for a team playing some pretty average rugby, the Chiefs sure have an impressive record. Last night's was their fifth win from six games, taking them to a conference-topping 25 points, even if the handy crowd of 15,203 deserved a few more tries.

The Blues have now dropped three on the trot, with the bonus point nudging them to 17 points.

For a tryless first half, that finished 9-6 with three Gareth Anscombe penalties to a pair from Chris Noakes, the tidy crowd certainly got their fill of entertainment.

At the end of it, the Blues must have been rapt to have been just three points adrift, after they survived a torrent of opportunities over the last half-hour that the Chiefs just couldn't convert.

Twice Lelia Masaga broke clean through to create openings that the champions, on their game, would normally convert.

And twice the TMO red-lighted the Chiefs, first when Anscombe was denied a breakout score for a ruck infraction 60 metres back and the second when Asaeli Tokoirotuma just scraped a foot on the touchline.

It was that sort of a half for the Chiefs. The chances kept coming - Kahui also sliced through, but could not connect with Aaron Cruden - but so too did the errors.

Of course, the Blues were eventually going to pay a price for their inability to clear their territory, and it came a half-dozen minutes into the second half when replacement Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna had the opening try.

Kahui had established the field position off a deliberately over-thrown lineout and when the Blues eventually coughed up a 5m scrum, Bundee Aki went close down the inside channel, with the giant prop only too happy to apply the finish charge.

The Blues got back to within a score on another Noakes penalty, but then Kahui had his charge-down and the lead was 14 with just a quarter of an hour remaining.

The Blues did notch a late try to George Moala but it was too little, too late on a night when the Chiefs held all the cards, if not the tricks.

Sunday Star Times