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Chiefs pushed hard by Sunwolves

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Lynn McConnell     29 Apr 2017     Getty Images

A hectic final few moments saw the Sunwolves firstly lose second five-eighths Derek Carpenter to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock down and then from the same phase of play, replacement fullback Jamie-Jerry Taulagi was sent off for using his shoulder to the head of replacement Chiefs wing Shaun Stevenson.
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Yet with the penalty, and a scrum taken, in front of the goalposts, the Chiefs summed up their woes of recent weeks by lacking the finish to be able to score what would have been the bonus point try. Instead, it was the Sunwolves who claimed the bonus point for finishing within seven points, and in many ways that was a credit to their determination on the night.

The first half was a fascinating mix of intent: the Chiefs looking to regain their mojo back at home after disappointing form overseas and the Sunwolves looking to show the benefits of their first tour to New Zealand.

As a result defensive play dominated. The Sunwolves attempted to work their way through the defences with mid-fielders Carpenter and William Tupou took some heavy tackles as they attempted to work through perceived gaps in the defence. The Sunwolves had one prolonged period in the Chiefs 22m area, where several scrummaging issues emerged, including the loss of tighthead prop Heiichiro Ito with a rib injury in the 17th minute.

All the Sunwolves had to show for their work was a penalty goal, in the 20th minute, to first five-eighths Hayden Cripps.

The Chiefs had made an early impact when hooker Hika Elliot got over the line after Cripps failed to clear the kick-off and left his side pinned on defence.

It was the 23rd minute before they scored again, after some strong runs by locks Taleni Seu and Dominic Bird, and the home loose forwards, Sam Cane, Tom Sanders and Mitch Karpik. The ball came back from a ruck close to the line and with first five-eighths Aaron Cruden offering a lobbed pass to space, into it sped fullback Damian McKenzie who then timed a fine pass to wing Solomon Alaimalo to score.

Just before half-time, McKenzie again received a pass from Cruden, although in different circumstances where he looked to be squeezed towards touch with four defenders bearing down on him. But from a standing start, he rounded the first drove through the second and then had the momentum to slide over the line for the Chiefs' third try.

The second half produced early benefit for the Sunwolves when the Chiefs were unable to clear their 22m area from the restart. Several scrums demonstrated the effectiveness of the tourists in this area and they had reward after the ball was given to the backs where Tupou ran hard at the line. He was grounded just short but from the ruck halfback Fumiaki Tanaka saw space at the base of the goalposts and planted the ball there for the try.

Losing Cripps to an injury in the move could have been costly as two penalty goal chances from handy positions midway through the half were missed by Taulagi.

Ringing the substitutes paid off for the Chiefs when, in the 59th minute, Cruden fielded a Sunwolves kick on his 22m. As he turned in taking the ball he slipped a pass to replacement wing James Lowe. Pouring on the speed down the sideline he veered infield and looked to set up a pass inside only to fling it out where McKenzie was floating.

He moved in around the defence then headed back out putting his speed to effect in running in for his second to stymie the Sunwolves progress momentarily only because the Sunwolves substitutes made their own contribution after a strong break by No.8 Willie Britz. Replacement front rowers Yusuke Niwai and Koko Yamamoto used the ball well to give Carpenter a chance which he took.

A penalty goal, finally, by Taulagi got the margin back to seven points and when the Chiefs mounted a strong late surge at the line, a superb steal at the ruck by replacement lock Uwe Helu denied them their last chance for a bonus point try.

Scorers: Chiefs 27 (Hika Elliot, Solomon Alaimalo, Damian McKenzie 2 tries; McKenzie 2 con, pen ) Sunwolves 20 (Fumiaki Tanaka, Derek Carpenter tries; Hayden Cripps pen; Jamie-Jerry Taulagi 2 con, pen). HT: 20-3