Super Rugby: Chiefs clinch heart-stopping win over Force to ensure Kiwi clean sweep

Lock Tupou Vaa'i was one of few players who stood out for the Chiefs, Picture: STUFF SPORTS.

A 14-man Chiefs side have clung on for a heart-stopping 20-19 win over the Force in Perth to ensure a Kiwi clean sweep over the Aussies on the opening weekend of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

But there was all of a few inches in it, after replacement first-five Domingo Miotti slid his after-the-siren conversion attempt just wide right, having scored moments prior in the highly dramatic finish which mirrored the Crusaders-Brumbies clash in Christchurch a few hours earlier.

With Luke Jacobson sent off with 13 minutes left thanks to a second yellow card, the visitors had to withstand a late-surging Force, as Richard Kahui scored against his former team to keep the hosts, in front of a great atmosphere at HBF Park, in with a shot of an upset.

And having won so many games with late goalkicks themselves this year, the Chiefs probably thought the tables had finally turned, with one-test Argentina international Miotti lining up the potential matchwinner from about seven metres in from the left-hand touch.

Having done so well to force a turnover on their own line, the Chiefs then almost dropped the game, literally, right there, after prop Joe Apikotoa knocked on and the Force spread for Miotti to score.

Kahui had been put over from a nice Ian Prior long ball in the 69th minute, just after Jacobson got his marching orders for slowing ball at the breakdown, when the Chiefs were looking comfortable at 20-7 up.

Having somehow negotiated a 10-minute period either side of halftime with two All Blacks in the sin bin – Jacobson and Anton Lienert-Brown – by outscoring the Force 3-0, the Chiefs put on two tries in three minutes to seemingly shut down the contest.

A 53rd minute yellow card to Force winger Jordan Olowofela for a deliberate knock down set the Chiefs on their way, with former All Blacks hooker Nathan Harris – in his first start since 2019 – rumbling over from the resulting lineout drive.

Then, after some metre eating up the middle, with fine impact from Samisoni Taukei’aho, a charging Pita Gus Sowakula put a big fend on Brynard Stander and fed Jonah Lowe to finish, as a comfortable final quarter loomed.

But when Bryn Gatland’s restart went out on the full, and the Chiefs’ scrum – which started the match strong with their whopping 59kg advantage – began to be overpowered, things took a big turn.

Belying their arduous travel schedule, the Chiefs had shot out of the blocks – just as they hoped their move of Damian McKenzie to No 10 would help them do.

Lock Tupou Vaa’i was an absolute beast in the early stages and only an intercept from Kahui stopped the visitors opening the scoring in the second minute.

They didn’t have to wait long to make amends, even after Lienert-Brown had his try ruled out after the officials spied a wee knock on from Brad Weber at the base of a ruck. A massive scrum saw them win a tighthead, and McKenzie sent Alex Nankivell over in the sixth minute.

But it proved to be one of those starts that coaches despise, for how easily things can seem to be coming, and the Chiefs went on to take their eye off the ball, quite literally on occasions.

Instead of building pressure through the basics, they became ragged in their play, took needless options and made fundamental errors which kept the Force in the game.

McKenzie was an unusual culprit, firstly with a shocking penalty touchfinder sent too long, then dropping a sitter of a pass, as he also endured a second successive unhappy night off the tee (2/5).

The Chiefs couldn’t even bank on their set piece any longer, with referee Damon Murphy finding a head-scratching lineout obstruction penalty, before an early scrum shove proved a real unravelling late in the half.

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