Sun, Apr 14, 2019 - Page 11 News List

Japanese Jonah scores game-breaker for the Chiefs


Lach McCaffrey of the Brumbies, left, reaches for Ruan Combrinck of the Lions, right, during their Super Rugby match in Canberra yesterday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

A crucial try by the “Japanese Jonah” Ataata Moeakiola yesterday helped the Waikato Chiefs down neighbors the Auckland Blues as the ACT Brumbies got back to winning ways in a hard-fought battle against the Lions.

The Chiefs’ 33-29 win in Hamilton continued their revival. After a disappointing four losses to start the season, they have now strung together a draw and three consecutive victories.

In Canberra, the Brumbies desperately needed the points to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the playoffs, and they delivered despite again missing injured Wallabies flanker David Pocock.

Tries from Lachlan McCaffrey, Tony Pulu, Tevita Kuridrani, Tom Wright and Tom Banks steered them to a 31-20 win, snapping a two-game losing streak and inflicting a second successive defeat on the Johannesburg-based franchise.

“It’s huge, it’s massive to get a win in the New Zealand conference,” Chiefs captain Brodie Retallick said after they extended their unbeaten run against the Blues to 15 games. “We came out here on our home ground and wanted to prove a point and fix up the first few rounds.”

The Chiefs were clinging to a 14-10 lead early in the second half when Tongan-born Japan wing Moeakiola made his entrance after fullback Damian McKenzie limped off with a knee injury.

He scored what proved to be a decisive try with his first touch to give them a crucial cushion.

The Blues were first on the board with an early Otere Black penalty before the Chiefs replied with converted tries to Brad Weber and Lachlan Boshier, and the Blues came back on the stroke of halftime with a try to Melani Nanai.

Moeakiola, who earned the nickname “Japanese Jonah” with a string of outstanding performances at the World Under-20 Championship in 2016, crashed over after Chief’s standout midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown had opened up the Blues defense.

In a pulsating finale, the ageless Ma’a Nonu scored twice from close range and Rieko Ioane also crossed the line, but sandwiched between the Blues tries, Boshier touched down for his second and Jesse Parete also scored to keep the Chiefs in front.

While missing Pocock, the Brumbies at least had the Wallabies trio of prop Scott Sio, hooker Folau Fainga’a and lock Rory Arnold back in the team, and their extra power proved decisive.

“The effort the boys put in tonight pleased me the most,” Brumbies captain Christian Lealiifano said. “There were tough patches in that game and we usually fall away, but the boys just dug deep. They are a quality side and they stretched us a lot there.”

The Brumbies soon went a man down when Wright was sent to the sin bin for a lifting tackle, and Lions winger Aphiwe Dyantyi exploited the advantage, slipping a tackle to dart down the line and get the first try of the night.

However, when Wright returned and they were back to full strength the Brumbies found their mojo, with the ball recycled to McCaffrey after a weaving Banks run and the fearless No. 8 crashing over after 20 minutes.

They soon got another when a play from inside their own half was finished by Pulu racing down the wing to dot down.

Lealiifano booted two difficult conversions and they went to the break 19-8 in front after another try just before the hooter, with the ball kicked upfield following a turnover and the chasing Kuridrani getting the points.

Flyhalf Elton Jantjies broke down the line to pull back five points for the Lions in the second stanza, but the Brumbies bounced back with tries to Banks and Wright before Sylvian Mahuza crossed for the visitors to set up a tense finale.

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