Charlie Ngatai celebrated his return to Super Rugby with a game changing try as the Waikato Chiefs pulled off a bonus-point 46-17 win over the Queensland Reds in New Plymouth on Saturday.
After a typical sluggish Chiefs start, Ngatai put them in front with a try midway through the first half and they never looked back.
They led 20-12 at the turn before racing away with four tries in the second half including two to folk hero Stephen Donald who was promoted to start at fly-half following the late withdrawal of Aaron Cruden because of illness.
The six-tries-to-three victory gave the Chiefs their ninth win from 10 matches and left the Reds with just two wins from 10.
Ngatai has been out of action for 12 months with concussion issues but showed no sign of rust on his return to join a logjam of talent vying for a start in the All Blacks midfield when the British and Irish Lions arrive next month.
The Chiefs have struggled in recent weeks, losing to the Central Cheetahs and narrowly beating the Western Force and Sunwolves, but with the injection of Ngatai captain Sam Cane was pleased with the improved performance.
"We've been frustrated in the past few weeks about the way we've been going .. but you can see from the way we played we expressed ourselves a wee bit more," he said.
The Reds needed to strike early given the Chiefs reputation for slow starts, which they did, but captain Samu Kerevi noted "unfortunately we couldn't stay in the game for the whole 80 minutes."
Twice in the first quarter the Reds turned close range penalties into lineout drives and came up with tries both times to lead 12-7.
But the discipline issues which cost the Reds their clash with the NSW Waratahs last week continued to trouble them, with Damian McKenzie landing two penalties to put the Chiefs narrowly in front 13-12 before Ngatai stamped his mark.
The inside centre cut the Reds' defence to shreds to take the Chiefs close to the line and then loomed up wide out to finish off with the try.
With the Reds guilty of handing over possession with aimless kicking and then falling off tackles when the Chiefs attacked, the outcome was never in doubt when the Waikato unit scored three tries in the first 12 minutes of the second half.
Cane won the restart to lead a drive up to the Reds line where Dominic Bird scored before the 33-year-old Donald bagged his double.
The Reds came back with a try to Campbell Magnay before James Lowe scored to ensure the bonus point for the Chiefs.