One step forward, two back for Moana Pasifika as Chiefs show off depth and class

One step forward, two back for Moana Pasifika as Chiefs show off depth and class

anny Toala feels the pinch in Moana Pasifika’s heavy defeat to the Chiefs on Saturday night.

While that might sound laughable, using the competition newcomers as some sort of yardstick, it pays to look deeper at what Clayton McMillan’s side produced in their 59-12 shellacking, which came on the back of that stunning late win over the Crusaders in Christchurch a week ago.

In a competition which is already heavily disrupted by Covid-19 – this fixture of course a hastily rearranged one on Wednesday to be the only Kiwi game of round five – depth in the ranks is going to be paramount.

While rising cases in squads have forced postponements, the Chiefs, despite having 17 players unavailable for this one, were determined to front, more for Moana Pasifika’s sake than anyone’s, McMillan said.

All Blacks Sam Cane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Angus Ta’avao and Samisoni Taukei’aho were missing, there was no specialist halfback cover for Brad Weber and there were three players on Super debut. Of course, there was an almost customary game-day out, too, with last week’s late try-scoring hero Rameka Poihipi making it 18 when he was a scratching from the starting side.

The two teams had met pre-season with the Chiefs, minus most of their All Blacks, cantering to a 61-7 win over three 30-minute thirds.

Six weeks later, Moana Pasifika loomed as a different beast, having pushed a second-string Crusaders 33-12 on their long-awaited debut following their Covid issues, and having had a week off to connect even more.

Chiefs lock Laghlan McWhannell goes on the charge at Mt Smart Stadium.
FIONA GOODALL/GETTY IMAGES
Chiefs lock Laghlan McWhannell goes on the charge at Mt Smart Stadium.

They were not.

Coach Aaron Mauger, who said his side were so desperate to get back on the park again they would have played on an airport runway if they’d had to, will be a highly disappointed man.

His side were their own worst enemies, in so many facets, he might just need all of Monday to run his troops through the tape.

Basic errors are a killer – Lincoln McClutchie botching a straightforward penalty shot and Sam Slade having the ball slip through his hands at a close-range lineout then also under no pressure in open play – ones of note.

Bryn Gatland goes over for the game's first points.
FIONA GOODALL/GETTY IMAGES
Bryn Gatland goes over for the game’s first points.

The set-pieces were also under pressure, but by far the biggest issue for Moana was their ill-discipline, finishing with an 11-3 penalty count against them, including a 58th minute yellow card to No 10 Christian Leali’ifano, paying the price for his side being under a warning from Paul Williams.

They gifted the Chiefs 64 per cent possession, but, still, the visitors had to be clinical with it.

That did not prove to be a problem at all, as they ran in a franchise-equalling record nine tries.

Bryn Gatland was again sublime at first-five, opening the scoring by yet again showing what he can do in taking the ball to the line, and once more offering some delicious cut-out passes to his outsides, all the while doing well to get up after a thumping hit from Levi Aumua.

Hamilton Burr enjoyed a fine debut in the somewhat unfamiliar position of openside flanker (having spent most of his time with Waikato at lock), making a team-high 16 tackles and scoring off a smart lineout drive where the Chiefs didn’t jump and instead formed their maul quickly – a tactic they have already used to decent effect multiple times in a year where McMillan is now overseeing that facet.

Young Chiefs prop Ollie Norris is one to keep an eye on, having a stormer against Moana Pasifika.
FIONA GOODALL/GETTY IMAGES
Young Chiefs prop Ollie Norris is one to keep an eye on, having a stormer against Moana Pasifika.

Loosehead prop Ollie Norris also had a stormer. The 22-year-old is certainly one worth keeping an eye on, in a time when New Zealand is crying out for mobile front-rowers. An early scrum penalty against Sekope Kepu got him going, then he was everywhere, cleaning out well, making a nice run and being sublime in winning a game-high three turnovers with his brilliance at the breakdown.

Tries either side of halftime to wingers Emoni Narawa and Jonah Lowe, the latter’s on the back of a delicious back-flick from the hot-to-trot Pita Gus Sowakula, sealed the deal early-doors and allowed McMillan to empty his bench with more than 10 minutes remaining.

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