It was by the account of their head coach, an ‘outstanding’ performance that saw the Chiefs overcome the Waratahs on a night when both coaches couldn’t ask for much more heart, from their respective 23-man lineups.
The game had just about everything a rugby fan could ask for, and for all the right reasons. The Chiefs will look back at their 37-27 victory over the Waratahs as a potential ‘season-defining moment’. One that their head coach Colin Cooper called “outstanding” and praised his sides ability to remain composed and come back into the game and ultimately win.
“Coming back from Africa with a short turnaround is a challenge, and for us to remain calm after being 14-0 down in this match was impressive but I am pleased for this team to come away with a bonus point”, Cooper said.
Chiefs overcome the Waratahs in ‘Outstanding’ performance
Given the fact that the Waratahs are leading the Australian conference, this was always going to be a huge challenge for the Chiefs to overcome. And as mentioned by Colin Cooper, one especially given the long flight home from South Africa. But overcome the Waratahs they did.
They did it tough, and thanks to a last minute Damian McKenzie try, the home side walked away with a crucial bonus point that will mean so much more.
The match was quality, and the visitors had their chances to steal victory from the home side, right up until the final siren. It was closer than many had presumed, because even as the Chiefs overcome the Waratahs on the scoreboard, it did not reflect the fine balance fans witnessed at times.
At times, the visitors were supreme. Israel Folau at times, able to spark from anywhere. But his spark was equalled for the most part. Tony Pulu was terrific in his finishing, as was skipper Charlie Ngatai; playing at second-five but able to cover fullback and general his troops wonderfully, to out think the visitors when key decisions needed making.
Visitors will ‘kick themselves’ for mistakes made
Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson said the game was lost in terms of both mistakes and tactical errors. “The Chiefs did very well to come back, we lost some big moments out there tonight. All the games we have lost against New Zealand sides we had our opportunities to win, so we need to nail these opportunities in the future.”
On reflection, the Waratahs will rue two of the tries they let the Chiefs score. As well, their decision to kick for the posts when awarded penalties in the Chiefs red zone. Had the Waratahs chanced their arm a little more, then a potential extra 10 points could have been put on the scoreboard.
But that wasn’t for a lack of trying, the Waratahs found themselves with one last shot at it in the final five minutes, but Chiefs defense out-muscled them in the ruck. Brodie Retallick showed his match-turning abilities, forcing a crucial turnover. “Outstanding” to paraphrase Colin Cooper.
What should please the Waratahs most though is how well they hung in the contest, when many would’ve predicted a repeat victory against the NZ Super Rugby side couldn’t happen. And as the Chiefs overcome the Waratahs by the end of the match, it did not begin so well.
The poor opening quarter didn’t appear to fluster the Chiefs defense, and after some discussion that was most likely led by senior members of the squad, the majority of their game soon settled.
Captain Charlie Ngatai (see main picture) said that the impact of the returning All Blacks paid dividends in terms of on-field leadership. “We needed to tighten up, at times we were a little too aggressive, but it goes to show the leadership we have within this team.
“Everyone knew their role, we knew the Waratahs would come out strong so we needed to take time to find our feet.”
Chiefs still confident of play-offs, despite mixed run
Coming into Week 15, sitting in third spot on the New Zealand conference ladder and sixth place overall, the Chiefs simply weren’t in a position to drop any more games. Not if they were to keep their chances of a home play-off encounter alive.
But with a decent gap between themselves and the Hurricanes (2nd in NZ), that isn’t the primary motivator for the club. Finishing in the best position in the overall standings, playing smart rugby, individuals performing to their best, and capitalizing on opportunities to score points is what the message has been from Colin Cooper throughout this entire season.
Since the upset loss to the Jaguares back in Week 12 in particular, the Chiefs have shown signs of improvement in this area. Even in the tough loss to the Sharks a week ago – when the team was heavily deflated with several of its bigger stars on All Blacks camp duty. It would have taken a miracle to win that fixture, but they came away with a close fought, losing bonus point effort. And some pride in their own character.
Players stand-up as the Chiefs overcome the Waratahs
Added to that, the at times difficult 2018 season – in terms of injury and disruptions – there has seen some bright, new talent emerge in amongst darkness. Look no further than 25-year old prop Karl Tu’inukuafe who has bolted his way into the limelight. His call into the All Blacks camp as injury replacement for Tim Perry shows that opportunities can present themselves.
Youngster Jesse Parete, who made a big impact on his debut, is another example. Colin Cooper also said that the talent filling in for injuries continues to improve.
“We have so many talented guys waiting in the wings, and that is the upside and downside of injuries, because you see guys come in and show they are good enough for this competition”, Cooper said.
Chiefs 39 – Tries: Toni Pulu (2), Damian McKenzie (2), Brodie Retallick, Nathan Harris; Conversions: Damian McKenzie (3); Penalty: McKenzie
Waratahs 27 – Tries: Cameron Clark, Curtis Rona, Kurtley Beale; Cons: Bernard Foley (3) Pens: Foley (2)
The Chiefs will remain in third place in the New Zealand conference, and will now regroup for a big clash against the Crusaders next week at home. Meanwhile, the Waratahs travel to Brisbane, for a match-up against the Reds.
“Main photo credit”
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