Sean Wainui makes history with five tries as Chiefs end on high against Waratahs

Sean Wainui scored a record five tries in the Chiefs’ win over the Waratahs in Sydney. CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES

Sean Wainui hadn’t played for six weeks, and hadn’t scored a try this year. And then he got to Lottoland.

The Chiefs winger wrote himself into the record books on Saturday night, becoming the first player in Super Rugby history to score five tries in a match, helping his team to a 40-7 win over the Waratahs in their Trans-Tasman season-ender.

With nothing but pride to play for, the Chiefs managed to finish their campaign on somewhat of a high note, ending a near-three-week stay across the ditch with a six-tries-to-one victory in Sydney.

And while Anton Lienert-Brown had suggested midweek the ultimate way to farewell forwards coach Neil Barnes would be to profit from some driving mauls and scrum pushovers, it was instead out wide where the Chiefs found their rewards, with Wainui’s record-breaker coming in dramatic fashion after the fulltime siren.

Parked out on the left wing in his first game back from a hamstring injury, the 25-year-old had, five minutes into the second half secured himself a maiden Super hat-trick, then with half an hour to play, already matched 18 other players as four-try scorers.

But then he went even better when opposite winger Shaun Stevenson seemingly deliberately came looking for him on a full cross-field run, which then had the TMO poring over replays to check Wainui’s foot hadn’t grazed the touchline in his bootlaces pickup and dive for the corner.

“All I had to do was catch the ball and put it down, bro, the boys did all the mahi,” Wainui told TV broadcaster Stan Sport of his five-try heroics, also believing he would somehow get out of shouting drinks.

“Nah, I left my card at home in New Zealand, bro, so the boys have got us there, cuz.”

But, for the former Crusader, who joined the Chiefs in 2018, it was a milestone moment fully deserving for a player not flashy but who is highly respected at the club, and who had featured in the top rankings in several pre-season fitness tests.

“To be honest I was cramping up pretty early, being away with injury, pretty unfit, so I was just happy to catch the ball and put it down,” he said.

“But it was a good feeling out there, the boys really came to today, and especially because it’s our last game of the year, we just wanted to put out a good performance.”

It was the bright spark to a match otherwise littered with errors – not only from the players, with one particular howler from referee Jordan Way in a ridiculous yellow card call on Chiefs lock Tupou Vaa’i – but the visitors, despite being forced into making considerably more tackles (173 to 101) than their hosts, were still able to heap more misery on the struggling Sydneysiders.

The defeat ensured the Waratahs finish 2021 winless, and their 13-game losing streak has now overtaken the Rebels’ 12-match run (2011-2012) as the worst of any Australian Super side.

It is also now the second-equal longest losing run in all Super footy, matching the Cats’ baker’s dozen from 2003-04, and closing in on the 17 of the Lions from 2009-11.

The home side had hung in the battle, trailing 14-7 at halftime, but the Chiefs were just too slick when they had their chances to use good ball, and more than once outstanding flanker Lachlan Boshier got them out of trouble with his synonymous breakdown turnover wins.

Replacement forward Viliami Taulani went over in the right-hand corner in the only Chiefs try that didn’t go to Wainui, in a second half which saw Waratahs blindside flanker Lachie Swinton red-carded in the 76th minute for a brain explosion head contact when driving in on Boshier at a ruck.

While that seemed a reasonable call, the 64th minute sin binning of Vaa’i looked farcical, when the Chiefs second rower had his head collided with by Waratahs first-five Will Harrison.

In what was also Clayton McMillan’s final game as coach before he drops to an assistant role when Warren Gatland returns next year, the Chiefs had flown out of the gates, with Wainui strolling over after just 83 seconds, then bagging a double after quarter of an hour, as Bryn Gatland kept feeding left.

It looked destined to be a long night for the Waratahs, who, after already coming into this game with around 20 players in their casualty ward, lost prop Tetera Faulkner just before kickoff with back spasms, then had centre Izaia Perese forced off in the 12th minute with a dislocated shoulder, which may not be good news for Wallabies coach Dave Rennie, either, ahead of his squad naming on Sunday.

But, after hanging tough, the Waratahs then enjoyed an extended stint dominating proceedings, ending the half with 66 per cent possession and 71 per cent territory.

Boshier was sin binned in the 28th minute for incorrect entry at a maul, and five minutes before the break the Waratahs finally found some reward, with Mark Nawaqanitawase flying high to collect a cross-kick from Harrison, which had rugby league written all over it at the iconic Manly ground.

But it was Wainui’s night.

AT A GLANCE

Chiefs 40 (Sean Wainui 5, Viliami Taulani tries; Bryn Gatland 4 con, Kaleb Trask con) Waratahs 7 (Mark Nawaqanitawase try; Will Harrison con). HT: 14-7.

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