Josh Ioane could have a hand on the Chiefs’ No. 10 jersey for their opener against the Highlanders next week after a promising hit against the Blues on Saturday.
The Chiefs enjoyed a valuable afternoon in Queenstown, beating both the Highlanders and Blues in the Game of Three Halfs event, and securing valuable game time for captain Sam Cane.
In both games they looked well organized and physical – although they pushed the limits of the ruck and Cane was sent to the trash for repeated team infractions against the Blues.
However, the main talking point was Ioane’s impressive 40 minutes against the Blues as he battles with Bryn Gatland for the No.10 shirt.
* Blow to Hurricanes as knee injury sidelines All Blacks No 9 TJ Perenara
* Moana Pasifika hit by Covid-19 outbreak, Super Rugby Pacific opener postponed
* Highlanders receive tongue-in-cheek complaint about shirtless players
* Super Rugby Aupiki: Australia’s Matatū rookies want full-fledged trans-Tasman competition
* Super Rugby Pacific: Chiefs playmakers challenged to step up Damian McKenzie’s absence
Conversely, the understaffed Blues finished with defeats to the Chiefs and Highlanders, with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck relatively calm in the No.12 shirt.
The Blues were missing a number of All Blacks, and it showed as the scrum came under heavy pressure against the Highlanders.
Chiefs versus Highlanders
An under-strength Chiefs side proved too physical in the contact and set-piece zones before the two teams meet in the first round of Super Rugby Pacific next Saturday.
Emoni Narawa opened the scoring early for the Chiefs after a strong break from half-back Cortez Ratima exposed the Highlanders near the ruck.
The Chiefs competed strongly on the ruck, giving up several penalties, but their maul defense was up to the task of stopping the Highlanders lineups.
They were also dominant at scrum time, winning two important penalties as the Highlanders opted to use their best props Ethan de Groot and Jermaine Ainsley in their second 40 minutes against the Blues.
Despite missing their All Blacks, the Chiefs then fought their way down the line from a maul, with big No.8 Pita Gus Sowakula receiving the pats on the head.
Aside from the tight five, Ratima looked good for the Chiefs and Etene Nanai-Seturo was elusive despite limited opportunities.
Scott Gregory stood out for the Highlanders at No.12, constantly crossing the advantage line and scoring a fine try late in the half with an evasive run.
Heads 14 (Emoni Narawa, Pita Gus Sowakula tries, Bryn Gatland 2 blocks) Mountaineers 5 (Scott Gregory tries)
Chiefs vs. Blues
All Black No 7 Sam Cane was shown a yellow card after 33 minutes as referee Paul Williams lost patience with the Chiefs’ high penalty count against the Blues.
In a repeat of their opener against the Highlanders, a stronger Chiefs lineup aggressively targeted the breakdown, and Cane paid the price.
With referees keen to provide a clean ruck ball, coach Clayton McMillan may need to address the issue before the start of Super Rugby Pacific next week.
Still, he’ll be happy with new No.10 Josh Ioane’s 40 minutes as the former Highlander threatened down the line and distributed well.
It was Ioane’s excellent wide ball that set up Jonah Lowe’s second down, and it already looks like he’s settled into the Chiefs’ offensive form.
The Chiefs scored first after 12 minutes, Lowe showing his pace down the right side to collect a nice kick into space from No.9 Xavier Roe.
The Blues’ sharpest attacking weapons were Mark Telea on the wing and No 13 Tanielu Tele’a.
Heads 17 (Jonah Lowe (2), Tyrone Thompson tries, Josh Ioane con) Blues 7 (Tanielu Tele’a tries, Harry Plummer counters)
Blues vs. Highlanders
The Highlanders team for the Blues hit – with only Josh Dickson and Vilimoni Koroi in support – provided far greater intensity than the loss to the Chiefs.
With Marino Mikaele-Tu’u a big presence in the No.8 shirt and the much more muscular set piece, the Highlanders backs looked brilliant.
Josh Timu was perhaps the surprise in the No.13 shirt, putting in a number of solid runs, while Vereniki Tikoisolomone also showed off his finishing skills in the No.14 shirt as the men from the Deep South took a 14-0 lead.
However, with Stephen Perofeta starting to pull the strings at No.10, the young Blues selection fought their way back into the game.
With Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens in impressive form, they caused many problems for the Highlanders defense and denied a penalty chance to win the game in the dying seconds.
Mountaineers 21 (Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Vereniki Tikoisolomone, Folau Fakatava tries, Marty Banks 3 blocks) Blues 19 (Vaiolini Ekuasi, Josh Goodhue, Taine Plumtree tries, Stephen Perofeta 2 against).