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Waratahs v Chiefs: Harlem Globetrotters fall short, Chiefs prove themselves again

By Finn Morton
Cortez Ratima of the Chiefs scores a try during the round ten Super Rugby Pacific match between NSW Waratahs and Chiefs at Allianz Stadium, on April 26, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Playing away from home against a confident Waratahs side, the Chiefs had to do it the hard way before running away for a 38-22 win which keeps their hopes of a top-two finish alive.

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While the Chiefs will want to finish at the top, the Hamilton-based franchise move into the top four and could finish round 10 in third depending on how the Brumbies’ clash with the Hurricanes plays out.

The Waratahs dominated the first quarter of the contest, but the Chiefs are widely considered one of the title favourites for a reason. Damian McKenzie helped inspire a much-needed fightback.

Match Summary

1
Penalty Goals
0
3
Tries
6
2
Conversions
4
0
Drop Goals
0
119
Carries
115
5
Line Breaks
9
15
Turnovers Lost
10
5
Turnovers Won
3

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Harlem Globetrotters put on a show but fall short when it counted

If you’re a sports fan, chances are you’ve heard of the Harlem Globetrotters. The theatrical basketball team were founded in Chicago, Illinois, more than 100 years ago, and they continued to entertain with a combination of skill, athleticism and fun.

Well, during the first quarter of this match, the Waratahs played like the Globetrotters during brief periods of excellence. The New South Welshman put on a show and the Sydney crowed oohed and aahed with every thrill and controversy.

Inside the opening minute, centre Joey Walton kicked the ball across the field for wing Mark Nawaqaniatwase. The Wallaby caught the ball and proceeded to run more than 20 metres before putting the ball on the toe himself.

As the match went on, the hosts settled in and took control early.

The Waratahs were creating some space out with some slick passing and clever thinking. While it would be naïve and downright unnecessary to claim the Harlem Globetrotters comparison is not an exaggeration, there’s no doubt the Tahs were on fire.

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Hooker Julian Heaven scored the opener in the 11th minute and captain Jake Gordon wasn’t too far behind as the Waratahs raced out to a 12-nil lead to cap off an utterly dominant opening quarter. The Chiefs had practically no possession.

But rugby is an 80-minute war.

One-test All Black Shaun Stevenson scored the Chiefs’ first just three minutes after Gordon’s try, and New Zealand wing Emoni Narawa crossed just before the break to draw the two sides level. Momentum had well and truly swung in the way of the Hamilton-based Chiefs.

The Chiefs fired an early shot after the break through Quinn Tupaea who made some solid metres. That moment summed up what was to come with the favoured Chiefs taking control on the back of some clinical play around the park.

They didn’t win tonight, but the NSW Waratahs can take plenty of positives out of their performance. Once they get to a level where the can maintain that standard for more than 20 minutes, there’s no reason why they can’t shake up the competition against the heavyweights.

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Chiefs prove themselves again as genuine title contenders

It was almost difficult to process or understand what exactly was going on during the first quarter of the mach. It wasn’t just the way the underdog Waratahs dominated their more-fancied opponents, bur rather the way the Chiefs were beaten in every facet of the contest.

The Waratahs raced out of the blocks with a clever cross-field kick from Joey Walton sending wing Mark Nawaqanitawase on a meaningful burst down the right edge. It was a solid start from the hosts who didn’t look back during the next 20 minutes.

It was all one-way traffic as the Chiefs failed to fire even a single shot.

But the Chiefs, to their credit, didn’t panic.

Sydney hasn’t always been an easy place to win – as the Blues’ hard-fought win at the very same venue earlier this season goes to show. So, for the visitors to have had their backs up against the ropes shouldn’t come as a complete surprise.

But what’s important is how they responded.

The difference between good and great teams is how they respond to difficulty when the ball is bouncing the other way. But the Chiefs passed those tests with flying colours when the match was all said and done.

Shaun Stevenson and Emoni Narawa started the comeback during the first half, and another try from Narawa after the break well and truly swung the match into the Chiefs’ favour. The Waratahs, as tough as they fought against it, seemed to be holding on.

Matches like this are what Super Rugby Pacific should be about. Winning on the road is tough, which is what makes home field advantage during the playoffs so important for the teams genuinely setting their sights on lifting the trophy in June.

The Chiefs’ title credentials were put to the test tonight, and other than that slow start, this was a team that looked like a genuine challenger. They won ugly, and chances are for any team who wants to win this competition, that’s something the eventual champion may need to do.

Cortez Ratima takes another step towards the All Blacks’ No.9 jersey

It’s one of the big questions that are yet to be answered about Scott Robertson’s All Blacks in 2024: who will start at halfback? There are several candidates who have world-class potential, but only one man will prove themselves as the consistent first-choice No.9.

Following the injury to Hurricanes halfback Cam Roigard, those in the mix to wear this jersey at Test level include the Highlanders’ Folau Fakatava and the Blues’ Finlay Christie. 80-Test All Blacks veteran TJ Perenara has also skyrocketed back into contention.

But the man leading the race at the moment is the Chiefs’ Cortez Ratima. The 23-year-old has fended off teammate Xavier Roe by proving himself to be the best-option at halfback for the Chiefs, and Ratima’s rugby ascent is widely tipped to go even higher.

Ratima, who has started five matches in Super Rugby Pacific this season, will reach new heights by becoming the All Blacks’ starting scrum-half – at least until Roigard returns.

Following a slow start from the team, Ratima helped inspire the Chiefs’ second-half fightback with some quick-thinking in attack and desperation in support play. Ratima scored one of the Chiefs’ second-half tries which proved crucial.

Other than that, it wasn’t a 10-out-of-10 display by any means, but there’s plenty to like about what Cortez Ratima can offer the All Blacks. The No.9 took another step towards Test honours on Friday but there’s still plenty of rugby to be played this season.

All Blacks duo deliver after injury to talented Shaun Stevenson

Not a lot went to plan for Damian McKenzie and Chiefs early on. McKenzie returned an exit kick inside the opening 10 minutes but an attempted offload ended up finding the deck rather than a teammate.

The Waratahs went on to score two quick tries which had the 14,000+ in attendance cheering in a sense of euphoria as they dared to dream of what this April night could bring. But it wasn’t to be with McKenzie playing a starring role in a memorable comeback.

Shaun Stevenson’s individual brilliance saw the Chiefs hit back midway through the half, but with the fullback going off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, the visitors needed their big name players to step up.

Enter McKenzie and Emoni Narawa.

McKenzie threw a sensational cut-out pass to send Narawa over just before the half-time break. A sense of inevitability almost filled the Sydney air as the New Zealanders began to play with a growing sense of confidence.

Narawa scored the first try after the break too, with McKenzie contributing, as the Chiefs began to run away with it.

It was still a bit tense going into the business end of the contest, but there’s no question the Chiefs were the better team in the end, and they have the All Blacks duo of Damian McKenzie and Emoni Narawa to thank for that – among other players of course.

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1 Comment
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Bret 78 days ago

The Chiefs definitely didn’t win ugly. They had the superior scrum, a dominant lineout, and their defence was excellent once the Waratahs scored their two tries (thanks to some lucky refereeing calls mind you). They put pressure on the Waratahs lineout throughout the game, and the mind boggles as to why the referee did not award a yellow card or a penalty try against the Waratahs for repeated scrum infringements on their own try line before Narawa’s first try. And the Chiefs were slick with their passing and running angles on attack. It was a dominant performance all round, even with many questionable refereeing decisions.

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