(Reuters) - A near-perfect first half performance by the Waikato Chiefs was enough to record a 45-22 victory over the Otago Highlanders in Suva on Saturday and move into third in the New Zealand conference.
Winger Toni Pulu crossed twice, while fullback Solomon Alaimalo, prop Karl Tu’inukuafe, flanker Luke Jacobson and winger Sean Wainui all scored tries in the first spell at the National Stadium to race out to a 42-0 lead.
The victory moved the Chiefs to 41 competition points, one ahead of the Highlanders and four behind the Wellington Hurricanes (45). They are fifth in the overall standings.
Inside centre Teihorangi Walden scored twice, while replacement prop Aki Seiuli and loose forward Shannon Frizell also crossed as the Highlanders outscored the Chiefs 22-3 in the second half.
The Chiefs, however, were unstoppable in the first half with veteran loose forward Liam Messam and Alaimalo standouts in a team performance that produced arguably the best 40 minutes of Super Rugby this year.
The Hamilton-based side were relentless with their pace and ball movement, creation of space and superb handling mixed with a bit of luck as everything that could go right did.
Alaimalo’s speed and elusive running that has supposedly interested the All Blacks selectors was on show from the second minute as he scored the first try, while another burst set up Pulu’s second two minutes after the halftime hooter had sounded.
In between, the Chiefs dominated the forward exchanges, kept the ball alive and stretched arguably New Zealand’s best defensive side back and forth across the field that led to tries to Pulu, Tu’inukuafe, Jacobsen and Wainui.
Damian McKenzie judged the tricky wind to perfection and converted all six tries.
The wind appeared to have some sort of mystical affect on both teams in the second spell with the Highlanders playing like the Chiefs had in the first with Walden finishing off two superb sweeping movements.
Replacement prop Seiuli also barrelled over for the Highlanders for a 64th minute try as they chipped away at the deficit, while Frizell’s 78th minute try actually denied the Chiefs what could be a vital bonus point.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty