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Moana Pasifika handed thumping by Chiefs in first pre-season match

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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Moana Pasifika have been dealt a tough introduction to life in Super Rugby Pacific after being beaten 61-7 by the Chiefs in their first pre-season clash of the year at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on Friday.

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Playing in their first match since they were admitted into Super Rugby Pacific, and just their second-ever fixture after their one-off defeat to the Maori All Blacks in December 2020, Moana Pasifika acquitted themselves well in patches throughout the game.

However, consistency wavered, as is expected in pre-season, which resulted in an inability to capitalise on chances afforded to them.

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As such, they struggled to keep pace with the Chiefs, whose experience paid dividends in emerging from the match victoriously as the scoreline grew larger and larger as the game wore on.

That much was evident in the first of the three 30-minute periods, where the playmaking guile of first-five Bryn Gatland and the patience shown by their forward pack dented Moana Pasifika’s hopes of a surprise win early on.

First former Blues and Sunwolves hooker Leni Apisai, who turned out for Moana Pasifika against the Maori All Blacks, crashed over from the back of a lineout, before Laghlan McWhannell doubled his side’s lead not long afterwards.

The 14-0 deficit at the break could have been shortened had Moana Pasifika taken full advantage of the field position they were afforded by the Chiefs’ ill-discipline, but two dubious refereeing calls denied them two tries near the half hour mark.

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Undeterred by their inability to unlock the away team’s defence, Moana Pasifika showed plenty of heart defensively early in the second 30-minute period, but weren’t helped by the flurry of infringements they conceded themselves.

They were duly punished for their poor discipline, as a well-worked Chiefs backline move put wing Etene Nanai-Seturo into acres of space to score in acrobatic fashion.

An overhaul of personnel midway through the period provided the Chiefs with an abundance of fresh legs, and they were put to good use almost instantly when Jonah Lowe strolled in for an easy try.

It could well have been seven points in favour of Moana Pasifika, but a failed intercept by Tomasi Alosio on Alex Nankivell’s pass split the hosts apart, enabling Liam Coombes Fabling to link up with Lowe deep inside enemy territory.

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Still, Moana Pasifika had their chances, albeit only a few, but a lack of finesse and execution failed them badly when those opportunities presented themselves.

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Those will be among the various issues that will have become clear for Moana Pasifika head coach Aaron Mauger and his assistants, with the perhaps the most significant being their side’s deficiency at the set-piece.

Too often were they blitzed by their opposites at scrum time, while the lineout throwing by their hookers, particularly in the first period, should have alarm bells ringing.

It was no surprise, then, to see the Chiefs crash over for another rolling maul try to close out the second third before opening the final third with a cracking piece of play that saw Josh Ioane score his first try for the Chiefs since moving from the Highlanders.

The build-up to the try – a stunning midfield offload by Pita Gus Sowakula to Chase Tiatia, who motored into the opposition 22 before Ioane’s ball-playing magic opened the defensive line right up – emphasised the gulf in quality between the two teams.

Ioane’s class was evident not long afterwards when he assisted an Emoni Narawa line break with a nice backdoor pass, with the fullback putting Lowe into space to score his second try.

Things went from bad to worse for Moana Pasifika when Lowe sucked in a couple of defenders before releasing Narawa for a try of his own off the back of another successful Chiefs scrum to notch up the half century.

It wasn’t until the 82nd minute that Moana Pasifika finally crossed for their first try when No 8 Lotu Inisi came up trumps in a determined surge towards the tryline.

That try was undoubtedly the brightest moment in what was overall a dour evening for the hosts, which was made worst when Sowakula gifted Tiatia a try on full-time to blow their points tally out to beyond 60 points.

That’s reflective of how much work Moana Pasifika need to do before their season-opener against the Blues in Dunedin in a fortnight’s time.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, will be quietly confident ahead of their final pre-season encounter against the Blues in Queenstown next week.

Chiefs 61 (Tries to Leni Apisai, Laghlan McWhannell, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Jonah Lowe (2), Bradley Slater, Josh Ioane, Emoni Narawa and Chase Tiatia; 2 conversions to Bryn Gatland, 6 conversions to Josh Ioane)

Moana Pasifika 7 (Try to Lotu Inisi; conversion to Christian Lealiifano)

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