Hamilton - The Waikato Chiefs jumped out to a 24-0 lead inside the first quarter then withstood a ferocious counter-attack from the Sharks to record a 37-29 victory in their Super Rugby match in Hamilton on Saturday.
The Chiefs had lost their two previous games after some poor play but the bonus-point victory moved the 2012 champions to 35 points and back in charge of the New Zealand conference ahead of the Auckland Blues (32).
The Chiefs had looked like they would run away with the game after a high-tempo start, racing out to a 24-0 lead inside 20 minutes with tries to Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Bundee Aki and Tim-Nanai Williams.
Tikoirotuma and Aki's tries came from well worked moves off set pieces and Nanai-Williams scooped up a dropped ball and sprinted more than 50 metres.
Fullback Gareth Anscombe, who had slotted an early penalty, converted all three tries to give the home side a lead that looked insurmountable.
“We had a really fast start and maybe we thought it was too easy,” Chiefs captain Craig Clarke said. “Disappointing from our point of view to let them come back but they showed a lot of fight.”
The Sharks used their massive pack to great effect and set up a well-drilled rolling maul to allow Derick Minnie to crash over before number eight Lubabalo Mtembu scored his first Super Rugby try following an attacking scrum.
Minnie added his second, again from an attacking lineout and rolling maul, just before halftime to reduce the deficit at the break to 24-19.
The Chiefs pulled ahead again early in the second half with Nanai-Williams scoring his second try after the Sharks defence failed to control an Aaron Cruden grubber kick and the centre flopped on the ball over the line.
Anscombe converted and added a penalty to give the Chiefs a 34-19 lead before the visitors again stormed back with Keegan Daniel crossing after superb buildup work from both backs and forwards.
Sharks flyhalf Patrick Lambie, who had kicked three conversions, added his first penalty with two minutes remaining but the visitors conceded a penalty just as the hooter sounded and Cruden slotted the kick to deny them a second bonus point for finishing within seven points. - Reuters