They made hard work of it but the Chiefs chalked up their fifth win in a row in Super Rugby with a 20-12 victory over the Force in Perth today.
The victory took the Chiefs to 26 points and a temporary perch at the top of the table with the Highlanders and Stormers still to play tonight in the Easter round seven in Dunedin.
In their stopover before two tough matches in South Africa it was the Chiefs’ rock solid defence that again held the upper hand in a match in which they squandered a number of attacking chances with handling errors and lack of discipline at the breakdown.
They did manage a running backline try in each half, while the Force survived on four penalty goals from fullback David Harvey.
The Chiefs scored the only try of the first half in the 15th minute with right winger Lelia Masaga celebrating his first touchdown of the season in typical style with little dance after first-five Aaron Cruden popped the pass to him as he hit the ground in a tackle in front of the posts.
That put the visitors into a 5-3 lead, which Cruden easily turned into a 7-3 advantage with the conversion from out in front.
Earlier Force fullback David Harvey put the first points on the board with a ninth minute penalty goal and with the penalty count heavily in favour of the home side, he added another in the 21st minute.
That kept the Force close at 7-6 at halftime but they could have led at the break had Harvey manage a third penalty goal when a dominant Chiefs scrum was again pinged by Kiwi referee Jonathon White.
The Chiefs dominated territory and possession in that first stanza and a solitary converted try was scant reward, but seven handling errors proved costly in undoing promising attacking moves, while the mounting penalties also gave the ball back to the home team.
The second half saw the home side get their hands on the ball a lot more, forcing the Chiefs’ defence to work overtime but while two more Harvey penalty goals came the Force’s way, Cruden matched that for the Chiefs, while also converting the ninth minute try of winger Tim Nanai-Williams.
This came from some impressive back play, Cruden straightening the attack and making a telling break that was carried on by impressive halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
The ball then went left from the breakdown through the hands of Nanai-Williams to second-five Sonny Bill Williams who then tossed a one-handed overhead pass back infield to the dynamic little winger in space for an easy try.
Williams again gave the Chiefs plenty of go-forward with his hard, straight running while again the likes of Sona Taumalolo hammered away all night among the forward pack to do the same.
But the Chiefs rather lost their way on attack in this match and would just have been happy to walk away with the four points after countless turnovers, mostly from handling errors and penalties, took away most of the shape from their game.
They will be disappointed that some of the sting was missing from their contesting of the breakdown against a very efficient and hard-working Force loose trio of David Pocock, Richard Brown and Matt Hodgson.
Chiefs 20 (Lelia Masaga, Tim Nanai-Williams tries; Aaron Cruden 2 conversions, 2 penalty goals)
Force 12 (David Harvey 4 penalty goals).
Halftime 7-6 Chiefs.
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