“BY PHIL TAYLOR AT ROTORUA INTERNATIONAL STADIUM
“Ferocious and determined defence was the major difference between the Chiefs and the Blues. The home side’s 34- 16 victory at Rotorua may also have come as a surprise, after the Chiefs had looked very ordinary a week earlier beaten 40-11 by the Crusaders, while the Blues had come off two hard fought home wins.
Centre Keith Lowen was the local hero scoring a hat-trick of tries, with the last coming right on fulltime, to the delight of the big 14,000 crowd at the International Stadium.
Chiefs coach John Mitchell acknowledged afterwards that his side’s effective “scrambling defence” had played a big part in the victory; but also said they had showed great character and total belief in themselves. It was determination and urgency that set the teams apart - in short, the Chiefs were hungrier and were never giving in - character that hasn’t always been displayed in the franchise’s previous five years in Telecom Super 12.
It was an attractive and exciting match that flowed, thanks in no small way to referee Cohn Hawke’s ability to communicate the rule interpretations we had in 2000. For the first time this year, players were not hesitant before hitting a ruck or entering tackle-ball areas.
There were still errors aplenty, many of which were made at great speed and under huge pressure. Blues coach Frank Oliver will not be pleased with how many times his players lost the ball going into a ruck or maul. The Blues turned-over possession regularly, and notably in the second spell, and that led often to long periods without the ball facing up to wave after wave of Chiefs attacks.
The Chiefs also committed a few handling mistakes and spillages, but overall, Mitchell will have to be reasonably happy with this inspired performance, going into their bye.
The first half was the most entertaining of the two spells, narrowly. Throughout the match, defence was the key as both sides took it to each other in an old-fashioned crash and bash style, but gaps were opened more in the first half.
After goalkickers Carlos Spencer and Glen Jackson had swapped early penalty goals, Spencer hit a second on 19 minutes, making it 6-3 to the Blues. But the Chiefs stormed up a gear, and Lowen had his first try on 35 minutes, when the side swept from an initial lineout on halfway. Jackson added the conversion, and another right on halftime, when he converted Lowen’s second try, which had been created by Bruce Reihana.
The Chiefs 17-6 halftime lead was reduced by three when Spencer hit a 49th minute penalty goal, but the game’s most important try was about to be delivered.
Lowen played his part twice in a Chiefs raid which swept left and right several times across the Blues 22m, and which finally led to Danny Lee and Glen Jackson feeding captain Dean Muir who stormed through a gap in the tired Blues defensive line, and rounded behind the posts.
A period of stale-mate followed as the Blues pressed the reserves bench into action, and Mark Robinson got a try back on 74 minutes from a quick penalty tap, after Jackson had added a 67th minute penalty goal.
But the night belonged to the Chiefs, and Lowen’s try on the 80th minute, summed it up. Blues fullback Orene Ai’i attempted to run and chip kick out of his own half, but only managed to guide the ball into waiting Chiefs hands. Lowen grabbed his chance and sprinted in from 20m, with his left hand raised in celebration and ball tucked under the right arm.
MAN OF THE MATCH
It was hard singling out one Chiefs player on a night where the whole side stood out and played to their potential. .But only one guy, Keith Lowen, scored a well-deserved hat-trick of tries.
Deon Muir’s 53rd minute try, with conversion, pushed the Chiefs out to 24.9. Despite having plenty of gas left in the tank, the Blues were unable to crack the tight home defence until it was too late.
THE LAST WORD
“I’m stoked. The pressure was put on .us to perform. We did that. We’re pretty happy,” said Chiefs tighthead prop and Blues preseason reject Tim Kntght, of his frontrow’s efforts. As for personal motivation in the lead-up to get one over his home Super 12 franchise, with a wry smile Knight added: “It helped a little bit.”’
From “Rugby News”, Issue 4 2001 pp.18-19.