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Chiefs Manawa hold tight for nail-biting win over Matatu

By Tom Vinicombe
Kelly Brazier. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

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A titanic effort on defence in the second half has ensured the Chiefs Manawa have started Super Rugby Aupiki in pole position, securing a 17-15 win over the South Island’s Matatu in Hamilton on Thursday night.

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While there were tries aplenty in the opening spell, just a solitary 5-pointer to Matatu tighthead prop Amy Rule was scored in the second half. The Manawa were able to repel wave after wave of attack in the final 35 minutes – only breaking after the final buzzer. With fullback Arabella McKenzie not able to convert the score, the Manawa prevailed by a slim two-point margin.

From the outset, it was clear the Manawa were going to double down on the tactic that bore fruit during their pre-season outing last weekend and spread the ball to the wings immediately from the kick-off.

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From their first two attacks, the Manawa threatened the Matatu in the outer channels with Ruby Tui and Portia Woodman making handy metres down the sidelines.

While those skirmishes didn’t immediately result in points, they did highlight the doglegs in the Matatu defence and the Manawa continued to attack down the sidelines throughout the first half.

 

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The first scoring opportunity came off the back of a break from first five Kelly Brazier, with back-to-back penalties against the Matatau eventually giving the Manawa the field position they needed for the forwards to build some pressure. Loosehead prop Angel Mulu ultimately forced the ball for the first-ever Super Rugby Aupiki try.

The Manawa quickly went back to work following the score, putting together some great interplay inside the Matatu half. The defending side held strong under multiple phases of pressure, however, eventually winning themselves a penalty, and were able to set up inside the Manawa 22. From there, it took an Amy du Plessis half-break down the sideline (which likely would have resulted in an immediate score, with one more pass) for the Matatu to set up right on the tryline. Not to be outdone by her opposite, Pip Love crashed over seconds later.

The back-and-forth nature of the match continued with the Manawa nabbing the next try through Tui, with Brazier converting from the sideline to give the home side a 12-5 lead shortly after the 20-minute mark.

Loose play from the following kick-off handed the Matatu three attacking scrums inside the Manawa 22 and a nice offload from Liv McGoverne eventually gave Grace Steinmetz the space she needed to dot down for the Matatu’s second of the evening.

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At that stage, there was just 5 minutes left to play in the shortened first half but the Manawa weren’t done. After some relatively scrappy play from both sides, an excellent kick-and-chase from fullback Hazel Tubic saw the Manawa in ample space and a great support run, draw and pass from Victoria Edmonds gave Black Ferns No 8 Kennedy Simon the ball with no one in front of her and she was able to fend off the back-tracking Matatu defence to score out wide for her side, giving the Manawa a 17-10 lead at halftime.

While the breakdown contest had been relatively non-existent in the first half, a renewed ferocity at the ruck characterised the opening minutes of the second stanza, with the likes of Tui and Lucy Jenkins earning their sides penalties in relatively quick succession. McGoverne couldn’t nail the first penalty shot at goal of the match, however, with the kick just landing short.

In fact, in a stark change from the opening half, no points were scored in the second spell until after the final hooter, with regular handling errors seeing possession quickly swap back and forth before either side was able to make much ground up the park.

The ball rarely left the Manawa’s territory, with the Matatu spending over 5 minutes attacking inside their opposition’s 22, and it was only through some colossal work on defence that the home team were able to hold strong.

After holding out wave after wave of attack, a pair of penalties in quick succession finally handed the Manawa some breathing space with less than five minutes left on the clock and although they weren’t able to hold onto the ball for the remainder of the game or keep their opposition out, they prevented them from scoring near the posts – which was enough to give the Manawa an inaugural Super Rugby Aupiki win.

Chiefs Manawa 17 (Angel Mulu, Ruby Tui, Kennedy Simon tries; Kelly Brazier conversion)
Matatu 15 (Pip Love, Grace Steinmetz, Amy Rule tries)

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