Bonus point win gives Chiefs a life in New Zealand conference log-jam.
The Waikato Chiefs earned their sixth win in a row against the Auckland Blues downing their arch-rivals 32-30 to kick off the latest round of Super Rugby.
The bonus point victory for the Chiefs sees them give themselves some breathing space in the packed New Zealand conference, which is easily the most competitive of the three this season.
Auckland claimed the first try of the game when Ma’a Nonu made a surging run down the left wing before Lolagi Visinia showed great handled skills to score from a bobbled pass.
The sideline conversion was landed and the Blues had the early 7-0 lead.
Waikato earned an excellent chance to hit back straight away when a mistake from Nonu off the back of a scrum handed their opponents several chances at the line.
And it was the unlikely target of Chiefs tight-head prop Ben Tameifuna that touched down in the corner, beating the corner post and the TMO to see the scoreboard move to 7-all.
Handling mistakes and slices of luck continued to contribute heavily to both side’s attack chances in the first 20 minutes, in what was a free-flowing game to begin the round.
Auckland suffered an early blow in the game as fullback Charles Piutau was left stranded in the middle of the field with a serious looking leg injury.
Play continued around him as the Chiefs made the most of the numbers advantage, with good hands from the back and forwards, seeing them stretch the Blues too far with Tim Nanai-Williams diving across to make the score 14-7.
Not only did the Blues lose the lead but they also lost Piutau from the game, as he was helped off the field by two trainers with his night certainly over.
The Chiefs stretched their lead to 10 when Gareth Anscombe made it 2-3 with the boot on the night to make the score 17-7.
Simon Hickey kept his side withing touching distance after landing a penalty from 40m out, cutting the margin to just a converted try before another shot at goal saw the margin draw to just four in the shadows of half-time.
Waikato continued to have problems at their set pieces, in particular their line-out, with a lack of communication handing the Blues several chances to steal.
Anscombe capped a solid first half for the Chiefs with another penalty, as they secured a 20-13, setting up what should be a classic second half.
The Chiefs made a statement to begin the second half as they stole the ball from their opponent’s lineout, before making several burrowing efforts at the line, with Tameifuna grabbing his second for the game to make the lead 12 before another lovely try made the score 32-12 and earned them a valuable bonus point.
With 13 minutes left in the game the Blues breathed life back into the clash, when they made the most of a numbers advantage due to a sin-binning, allowing George Moala to score to bring the margin back to a tantalising 12 points.
Waikato were denied what would have been a match-winning try when the TMO ruled a short-range effort came up short, but time was against the Blues as the clock ticked away.