The Chiefs struggled past a gritty 14-man Western Force side, winning their Super Rugby match 35-27 in Hamilton on Friday morning.
The match was over as a contest after referee Angus Gardner dispatched Ian Prior for a nasty tip-tackle in the 28th minute. It was the Force who scored three times in the second half and looked to make a game of it, finishing stronger at the end.
The red card changed the game completely and referee Gardner had no option but to react, especially as Tim Nanai-Williams, who was on the receiving end, was upended without the ball after the whistle.
The Force made the first move in the game, after the opening penalties had the teams locked at three apiece. A Chiefs knock-on on their own goalline gifted the Force the advantage and Prior used the overlap in the backline to send Angus Cottrell away for the opening try. A break by Nanai-Williams saw the ball travel through four different sets of hands before Charlie Ngatai was the last receiver to head across to the tryline in a breakaway score.
McKenzie extended the lead with another penalty before Gardner saw red for Prior’s indiscretion and in that moment the game swung perfectly towards the Chiefs.
When the score was 30-7 it looked like it would be one-way traffic, especially with the numerical advantage but the Force found some resolve and stormed their way back into the game. First it was Luke Morahan who finished off an exceptional counter attack to go in at the corner and then Matt Hodgson and Wilhelm Steenkamp combined to set up a maul that led to a try for the Force captain. Heath Tessmann scored late in the game to give the Force some hope, but it was too little too late as time was running out they were unlikely to challenge the Chiefs.
The results means that the Chiefs are now top of the combined Super Rugby-log, but they could be overtaken should the Hurricanes beat the Reds on Sunday.