The Chiefs got what they wanted to from their visit to Port Elizabeth’s magnificent Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, but they would not have ended their 35-24 Vodacom Super Rugby win over the Southern Kings without knowing they had been in a contest.
It was summed up by the decision to get fullback Gareth Anscombe to kick for posts when the Chiefs were awarded a penalty five minutes from time. Who would have believed before the season started that the Kings would have forced the champion Chiefs to kick for a three pointer to make sure of the victory?
The Kings were eight points behind at that stage, and they had eaten the deficit down from 19 at one stage. Instead of lying down and dying like many would have expected them to once the Chiefs had taken a handy lead, the Kings fought back tenaciously, getting the big crowd in behind them in the process.
As it turned out, Anscombe missed the penalty with five minutes to go but made up for it by kicking an easier one three minutes later. The point though was that it was a moral victory for the Kings in the sense that they had forced the Chiefs to defend their lead right until the dying minutes, just as they did to the Sharks six days earlier.
Not that the Chiefs will be too unhappy with their night out. They were hit hard in the tackle by a team playing with great character, but they did score four tries, so they have five long points to add to the two garnered from the Stormers game the previous week. Seven points from a trip to South Africa is not something to scoff at these days.
In the end you would have to say the final result was fairly inevitable, and it was so from an early stage. No-one would want to pretend that the Chiefs and the Kings are of anything like equal ability, and for much of the game we looked like we were heading for a situation where the Chiefs would just run away with it and wrack up a big score in the final quarter.
And that might even have been the expectation of the home crowd. The Mexican Wave that rolled around this magnificent stadium when the Chiefs were already leading 32-13 with 20 minutes of the match to go summed up the general feeling in these parts – all that matters is that Super Rugby is being played here, and that the team playing for them is giving their all.
And boy, do the Kings give their all, and Kings director of rugby Alan Solomons was quick to commend them afterwards for the character and courage they had shown.
“The big thing is that we played to the team identity we want to build,” said Solomons.
“We said before the season that in every match we wanted to play with character, courage and commitment in every game we play. We have played back to back games now against the two teams that contested last year’s final. They are laden with All Blacks and Springboks, so it was great that we so nearly came out with a bonus point. The courage we displayed was incredible.”
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie was equally complimentary of the beaten team.
“They obviously play for each other and show great commitment and I can see them knocking someone else over before this competition is done,” said Rennie.
Instead of falling in line with what was anticipated by falling away in the last 20 minutes, the Kings fought back. With the crowd egging them on in boisterous fashion, they surged into the Chiefs territory on the hour mark, and after a lineout and a sequence of four pick-and-goes, it was rugged No 8 Jacques Engelbrecht who was over near the corner flag.
Demetri Catrakilis had what for him is a rare miss at goal with the angled conversion, but being back within two converted tries of the Chiefs inspired the Kings. They enjoyed much of the play in the last quarter, and two penalties kicked by Catrakilis cut the deficit to just eight points with as many minutes to go.
As expected the Chiefs did exactly what the Sharks did the previous week by coming out of the blocks quickly and playing powerful, frenetic rugby designed to stretch their opponents and make them struggle to make the step up.
But the Kings are both gutsy and well organised and coached. As they had in the previous two games they have played, they showed great ticker in withstanding assault after early assault from the Chiefs.
It was anticipated that the Kings would be out of their depth in Super Rugby, but so far they haven’t looked it. There was a measure of composure about the way they stood up to the early thrust from the Chiefs. And when Chiefs fullback Anscombe put the first points of the match on the board after nine minutes, the Kings just calmly responded with one of their own.
There was another Anscombe penalty soon after that but it wasn’t until the 20th minute that the Chiefs were able to end three and a half halves during which the Kings had not had a try scored against them when they sent right wing Leila Masaga in for the first of what was to turn out to be a hat-trick of five pointers.
There was another Masaga try after half an hour that made the lead 12 points for the visitors, and the team from Hamilton hammered away for much of the next 10 minutes in their quest for a third. But they do appreciate defensive play down here, and every time a Chiefs attack was thwarted, it was greeted with a rousing ovation.
Nothing like the ovation that Sergeal Petersen got though on the stroke of halftime as another big Kings tackle robbed the Chiefs of possession and the Kings wing ran the length of the field to score.
It was a great way to end the half for the home team but the Chiefs effectively wrapped up the game in the third quarter when Masaga scored another great try near the corner flag and then Sam Cane forced his way over from close range off a loose scrum.
Southern Kings – Tries: Sergeal Petersen, Jacques Engelbrecht. Conversion: Demetri Catrakillis. Penalties: Demetri Catrakillis (4).
Chiefs – Tries: Lelia Masaga (3), Sam Cane. Conversions: Gareth Anscombe (2). Penalties: Gareth Anscombe (3).