The final instalment of round seven Super Rugby Aotearoa saw the Blues host the Chiefs at Eden Park this afternoon.
With the Chiefs’ title aspirations over, the men from the Waikato were playing for respect which can be a dangerous motivator, and defeating any side from Auckland would certainly deliver that.
Warren Gatland’s winless side have had their moments this season and had done just about everything to defeat the Highlanders last weekend, but were thwarted after the 80-minute mark by the relentless Highlanders.
The sting of such a loss no doubt would have been a factor in the Chiefs preparation for this encounter.
In the forwards, Aidan Ross was unavailable due to a calf strain, which allowed Reuben O’Neill to start at loosehead. That allowed 20-year-old Ollie Norris to come onto the bench, with Aucklander Lisita Milo-Harris shadowing Brad Webber.
Finally, Adam Thomson – at 38-year-old – was also named on the bench with 100 Super Rugby caps within his grasp.
The Chiefs threw the ‘Kitchen Sink’ at the hosts but were denied 21-17 in yet another thriller. Here’s how they rated:
15. Damian McKenzie – 7.5/10
Arguably his best performance in Super Rugby Aotearoa. Despite being guilty of running too laterally early on, D-Mac’s class in both attack and defence were on display. Made several try saving tackles and was a handful in possession but also worked hard off the ball to draw defenders onto him. Quality shift.
14. Sean Wainui – 7/10
Wasn’t given much space to work with in attack which is a shame considering his class. Was solid in defence.
13. Anton Lienert-Brown – 8/10
Superb performance by the All Black centre. Made plenty of tough metres and was a fourth flanker in defence, securing multiple turnovers and cleaning out at the breakdown. Good luck removing him from that All Blacks centre position with form like this.
12. Alex Nankivell – 7/10
Solid day out. Was hard in defence and like Lienert-Brown worked hard for yards in the middle of the park. If he can stay fit, he appears to have a big future with the Chiefs.
11. Solomon Alaimalo – 7/10
Was replaced after being injured scoring a good old-fashioned winger try holding his width and depth on the short side to capitalise on a turnover counter attack. Was a solid performer prior to that and nearly stole another earlier in the match by simply chasing a kick and staying in the contest.
10. Kaleb Trask – 6.5/10
Made some errors by not finding touch when required but showed he is a player of the future. Tended to take the lesser option in attack that stifled momentum. Would like to see him take the ball to the line and play flatter as opposed to block plays.
9. Brad Weber – 7/10
Mixed bag from him. On the negative, he can drop off a tackle and was guilty of delivering the odd looping pass that put pressure on the receiver. On the positive, he is such a courageous player and was in the thick of it trying to get his side back into the match.
8. Pita Gus Sowakula – 7.5/10
He has a warrior today for the Chiefs. Made numerous tackles and secured an important turnover to thwart the Blues momentum and give his side a chance at victory. He must have come within millimetres of scoring at the death but it wasn’t to be.
7. Sam Cane (c) – 7.5/10
Another ‘Captain Courageous’ performance and, as always, was in the thick of just about everything. Made 19 tackles, with at least three of those after he received an injury to his left shoulder, yet he stayed in it. Down 14-7 in the first half and points hard to come by, he turned down a sure three-pointer to go for the line. Wasn’t the right option.
6. Lachlan Boshier – 7/10
Didn’t secure any turnovers today which is unlike him, but was still immense at the breakdown and secured himself a try. Didn’t do his All Black selection chances any harm.
5. Mitchell Brown – 7/10
Impressed with his defensive efforts and put in a no-frills lock forwards performance that was required. Dependable player without being spectacular.
4. Tupou Vaa’i – 6.5/10
Solid performance in the lineout and looked to impose himself to his credit, yet was guilty of missing tackles. Still a credible performance by a player with a future.
3. Nepo Laulala – 6.5/10
Worked hard against a quality scrum but was guilty of giving away a couple of penalties, and dropping off a few tackles. An All Black of his experience needed to better in that department.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 26, 2020
2. Bradley Slater – 7.5/10
Did so much quality work in tight. Made at least one try saving tackle in the second half and simply didn’t miss the opportunity to impose himself. Solid in the lineout and needs to find a better running game but a quality performance today.
1. Reuben O’Neill – 7/10
Brave player who ran into the heart of the Blues to give his side front foot ball. Was solid in the scrum and worked himself in defence. Prop on the rise.
16. Samisoni Taukei’aho – 5/10
On in the 64th and did his job.
17. Ollie Norris – 6/10
On in the 68th and brought some physicality. Promising player.
18. Ross Geldenhuys – 5/10
On in the 71st and did his job.
19. Adam Thomson – 5/10
On in the 64th and won his 100th Super Rugby cap.
20. Mitchell Karpik – 5/10
On in the 64th and did his job.
21. Lisati Milo-Harris – N/A
22. Aaron Cruden – 6.5/10
On in the 41st. Almost steered his home side to victory and showed his experience and class in that effort.
23. Quinn Tupaea – 6/10
On in the 48th and looked to impose himself. Secured a turnover. Credible performance.
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