HAMILTON, New Zealand (AP) The Chiefs dominated set pieces, scoring three tries from lineouts and another from a scrum, to help Aaron Cruden mark his 100th Super Rugby match with a 41-26, bonus-point victory over the 14-man Auckland Blues on Friday.
The Hamilton-based Chiefs scored three tries in an eight-minute period on either side of halftime which followed the sending-off of Blues and All Blacks flanker Steven Luatua for a high tackle off the ball on Tim Nanai-Williams.
After a 56-18 win over the Melbourne Rebels in last weekend’s first round, there was hope in Auckland that this season’s Blues had the ability to end a 14-year title drought in Super Rugby. But the same hope flickered to life when the Blues beat the defending champion Highlanders in last season’s tournament, before they fell off the pace and became the only New Zealand team to miss the playoffs.
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The Chiefs were better in every area on Friday, winning the Blues’ lineout ball almost at will in the first half and destabilizing their scrum.
Backrower Liam Messam and hooker Hika Elliot both scored from rolling mauls which followed lineouts instigated from penalties in the first half and were perfectly executed by the Chiefs. Their efforts contributed to the Chiefs’ 22-9 halftime lead.
Livewire flanker Lachlan Boshier then scored from a scrum tighthead two minutes into the second half to to put the game beyond the reach of the under-manned Blues. Winger James Lowe’s try following a lineout made it 36-9; when the ball was moved wide from the set piece, flyhalf Aaron Cruden batted it back on the inside to Lowe, who cut through three tackles to score.
The Chiefs backline also showed its quality in tries to Damien McKenzie in the first half, when lock Dominic Bird put Nanai-Williams into a gap and Cruden and McKenzie finished superbly. In the second half, a touchline break by McKenzie and infield pass by scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow led to a try by center Anton Lienert-Brown.
The Blues rallied when All Blacks Jerome Kaino, Patrick Tuipulotu and Charlie Faumuina were introduced off the bench. Tuipulotu and Faumuina scored second-half tries before Rene Ranger continued a three-try rally which reduced the final margin to 15.
Momentum was then running against the Chiefs but they held on for a six tries to three win which gave them a bonus point.
”I always enjoy playing against the Blues and actually had my first Super Rugby game against them back in 2010,” Chiefs captain Cruden said. ”I think as a team you’re never the complete package. You’re always looking for things to improve and ways to get better. We were good in patches but there are always things to work on.”