Tahs blow another lead in NZ
ALL Blacks stars Damian McKenzie and Brodie Rettalick combined to crush NSW's hopes of going back-to-back against Kiwi sides, and the Tahs' 39-27 defeat to the Chiefs now leaves them exposed in the Australian conference.
The scoreline does not convey just how close this match was, with NSW having opportunities to win the game even as the full-time siren sounded, only for McKenzie to score after the bell to deny the visitors a crucial losing bonus point in Hamilton.
Having ended the Kiwis' two-year trans-Tasman winning streak last week against the Highlanders, NSW failed to end the Chiefs' march over Aussie teams, now at eight consecutive wins.
NSW showed hallmarks of brilliance throughout, but simple errors - kicks out on the full, dropped ball, missed clean-outs - cost them dearly.
Retallick was immense at the ruck, forcing several turnovers that stymied NSW's attacking raids.
With the clock winding down the Chiefs led 32-27, meaning a converted Tahs try would have won them the game.
But as they desperately tried to run from their own quarter, Tahs centre Kurtley Beale spilt a tough pass from Jed Holloway.
The ensuing Chiefs scrum saw McKenzie waltz through flimsy defence to secure them a bonus point and deny NSW one.
With Melbourne scoring a big win on Friday, NSW's lead atop the Australian conference has been cut to one point, with one week remaining before the June Test break.
NSW take on Queensland next week while the Rebels play Auckland's Blues.
The Waratahs, who have now won just one of their past 11 overseas games, were locked at 24-all with the home side by the 55th minute after a Beale try.
But it lasted two minutes before the Chiefs were ahead again.
A smart box kick from the base of a ruck by halfback Brad Weber found space behind the line with only backrower Michael Wells chasing.
He was no match for winger Toni Pulu who pounced on the bouncing ball and crashed over the line.
At 29-24, NSW endured huge pressure from the Chiefs to hold firm and then break downfield, resulting in Bernard Foley kicking a penalty to cut the gap to two points with 15 minutes remaining.
It was to be the Tahs' final scoring play.
NSW had led 14-0 after as many minutes, yet found themselves trailing 19-14 by halftime.
The opening two tries of the game were orchestrated by precision set-piece plays by the Tahs.
First, winger Cam Clark crossed in the fifth minute after a spread from a scrum 22 metres from the Chiefs' line.
The feed was shifted to Foley, who found Beale before opposite winger Taqele Naiyaravoro bobbed up on the right side to pass the ball to an unmarked Clark.
The space was created by clever decoy runs from Israel Folau and Curtis Rona.
In the 13th minute, Rona was given a short ball from Beale off a lineout 30 metres out. The centre ghosted through a midfield hole, stepped inside the cover defence of winger Sean Wianui and Brad Weber to score.
But the Chiefs' pace and physicality began to break down NSW's defence, and returning All Black lock Retallick scored under the posts in the 17th, taking a short ball from McKenzie after 10 phases in attack.
A blundered effort to run the ball from their own line gifted the Chiefs their second try.
A Chiefs turnover saw the ball passed wide to Rona, who was tackled before Will Miller and Naiyaravoro missed the clean-out.
Chiefs flanker Liam Messam scooped up the loose ball, and offloaded from the ground to hooker Nathan Harris who crossed in the 29th minute.
By the 33rd the Chiefs had hit the lead for the first time, with McKenzie finishing a sizzling move started by a Charlie Ngatai break from a lineout in midfield, before the speedy playmaker rolled in Folau's tackle to plant the ball on the line.
CHIEFS 39 (Damian McKenzie 2, Toni Pulu 2, Nathan Harris, Brodie Retallick tries McKenzie 3 cons pen) NSW WARATAHS 27 (Kurtley Beale, Cameron Clark, Curtis Rona tries Bernard Foley 3 cons 2 pens) at FMG Stadium, Waikato. Referee: Glen Jackson.