A withering closing burst produced a second bonus-point win in as many matches for the reigning Super 15 champions the Waikato Chiefs as they beat the Central Cheetahs 45-3 yesterday.
In their first home game at Waikato Stadium since beating the Coastal Sharks in last year’s final, the Chiefs scored four of their six tries in the closing 15 minutes of the fast-paced spectacle.
However, before travel fatigue began to hit the Cheetahs in their first game after the long flight from South Africa, they had the Chiefs on the back foot.
For most of the first half the Chiefs were furiously defending and although they managed to lead 10-3 at the turn, they held only 21 percent of territory and were given a stern message at the break by coach Dave Rennie.
“Nothing like a good telling off at halftime,” Chiefs captain Liam Messam said of their second-half domination. “We didn’t turn up in the first half and they were beating us at our own game at the breakdowns. So we just went back to basics, good clean ball for our backs and we scored at the end of the game. They’re big boys and something we pride ourselves on is the breakdown, so we gave our backs some quick ball.”
The Cheetahs opened continuing the form of their stunning second-half fightback against the Sharks last week, with flanker Pieter “Lappies” Labuschagne driving them forward.
However, the sole try in the first half came from a rare Chiefs foray into Cheetahs territory, where Messam took the ball from the back of a ruck and drove over the line.
Gareth Anscombe, who finished with a match-haul 20 points, added the conversion and a penalty, while Johan Goosen was successful with only one of four penalty attempts for the Cheetahs.
Goosen was not the only Cheetah to be off-song, as handling errors and misdirected passes meant they failed to cross the Chiefs line, despite frequent charges by Labuschagne taking them within striking distance.
Ben Afeaki scored the second try a minute after halftime when a defensive clearing kick by Goosen was charged down and the Chiefs’ prop was on hand to snap up the loose ball and dive over the line.
As momentum began to switch to the Chiefs, the Cheetahs hung on as long as they could until the floodgates opened in the final 15 minutes, allowing Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Anscombe, Rhys Marshall and Ben Tameifuna to cross for tries.
The Chiefs now travel to South Africa to play the Western Stormers next weekend in Cape Town, while the Cheetahs face the Otago Highlanders in Invercargill.