Ngatai magic inspires Chiefs to startling win

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Saturday, March 26, 2016    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Fears that the Chiefs round-the-world travel might catch up with them were unfounded as they turned on a nine-try handling display that belied the sometimes slippery conditions.

Some dazzling catching and passing demonstrated the great confidence the Chiefs have in their squad and made light of the injury frustrations that have denied the side a solid core of 12 of their most experienced players.

But with flanker Sam Cane so dominant in the loose, it allowed No.8 Michael Leitch and young lock Taleni Seu to create mayhem with the ball in hand, while the skills of fullback Damian McKenzie, first five-eighths Aaron Cruden, Ngatai, and wing James Lowe, the job was going to be beyond the Force.

McKenzie was lucky to get a second try, a player who put his foot in touch while he had the ball in hand wasn't called, but finished with 16 points on the night.

It didn't help the Force when they lost No.8 Angus Cottrell to the sin bin for a lifting penalty on wing Sam McNichol 55 minutes into the game and it proved a three-try penalty as the Chiefs cut loose.

Cane immediately called for a scrum at the penalty rather than a shot at goal and another clever move which saw a Ngatai in-pass to McKenzie create a chance for replacement wing Tony Pulu who had only been on the field a minute.

Ngatai celebrated with a fine solo break to score his second try and then moments later, moving the ball wide, it was Lowe who broke tackles to cross on the left flank.

The Chiefs started with a hiss and roar, almost from the first chance they had with the ball in hand, and they never let up as they amassed a record win over the Force and scored 41 unanswered second half points.

McKenzie, who provided the initial thrust from in front of his own goalposts, handled three times as he worked the ball with second five-eighths Charlie Ngatai, left wing James Lowe, halfback Brad Weber and first five-eighths Aaron Cruden before being on hand to take the final pass to score in the 11th minute.

The Force were unfazed initially however, and kept moving the ball around at every opportunity and when wing Semisi Masirewa made a midfield break it caused all manner of alarms in the home defence. Two minutes after first five-eighths Peter Grant had landed a penalty goal, the Chiefs paid for a turnover which created all manner of mistakes as both McKenzie and McNichol threw unnecessary passes which allowed the Force an opening.

It came when halfback Alby Mathewson ran wide from a ruck and linked with centre Ben Tapuai who went over between the posts.

However, the home team regained their composure and after a Lowe kick towards the goal-line was carried back a five-metre scrum provided Leitch with the chance to run wide off the scrum and exploit the gap as flanker Matt Hodgson wasn't able to get close to him.

Moments into the second half Masirewa launched another superb break from the Force goal-line but he was reeled in around halfway and the Chiefs began again with some find continuity play where the ease of handling belied the travel excesses the side had been exposed to over the last fortnight.

It was demonstrated after a bustling break by flanker Tom Sanders which set up another scoring chance. As ball was moved quickly from a ruck in the Force 22m where hooker Hika Elliott tipped the ball on perfectly from McKenzie to find second five-eighths Charlie Ngatai flying into the gap which took the lead out to 19-10.

Cruden appeared to have a personal vendetta on his former Springbok rival Peter Grant and gave him little chance to make an impression by shutting down his space.

If McKenzie hadn't had an off night with the boot the final outcome could have been even worse.

Scorers: Chiefs 53 (Damian McKenzie 2, Michael Leitch, Charlie Ngatai 4, Tony Pulu, James Lowe tries; McKenzie 3 con; Stephen Donald con) Force 10 (Ben Tapuai tries; Peter Grant con, pen). HT: 12-10