AUCKLAND, New Zealand – Warren Gatland´s Chiefs slumped to a franchise-record seventh straight loss Sunday, going down 21-17 to the Blues who revived their title chances after back-to-back losses in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Gatland, the former Wales coach who is due to lead the British and Irish Lions to South Africa next year, has made a horror start to his four-year contract with the Hamilton-based Chiefs. Their losing streak now embraces the last two matches of the full Super Rugby tournament, suspended in March, and all five games in the New Zealand-based tournament.
Last weekend the Chiefs managed to blow a 24-0 lead to lose 33-31 to the Highlanders. On Sunday the Chiefs trailed 14-0 after as many minutes, rallied to lead 17-14 at the 50-minute mark, then fell behind again to a 54th-minute try to the Blues.
The Chiefs threw everything at the last few minutes helped by a series of penalties, one of which resulted in a yellow card for Blues´ replacement Harry Plummer. But the Blue´s outstanding defense kept them out and a late defensive penalty allowed the home team to hang on to its narrow lead.
“We probably didn´t want it to get that close,” Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said. “I think we had plenty of opportunity in their half which we didn´t capitalize on.
“We did that to ourselves. We made a few errors and gave away far too many penalties against a Chiefs side that can pounce on anything and likes to play a wide game.”
The match, played in front of more than 33,000 fans at Auckland´s Eden Park, started promisingly with the Blues scoring two early set piece tries. The first, in the sixth minute, went to fullback Matt Duffie from a scrum after All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Rieko Ioane combined to create a gap in the defense.
Barrett, a two-time World Rugby Player of the Year, moved from fullback to flyhalf for the first time this season but his run of poor form continued and he wasn´t able to exert a major influence on the match.
Tuipuloto scored the second try after a half break by Barrett. Winger Mark Telea handled twice before the captain drove over from close range.
The Chiefs kept their hopes alive when backrower Lachlan Boshier scored in the 20th minute after a break by fullback Damian McKenzie.
The match lost much of its structure from that point on and indiscipline prevented either side from creating concerted pressure.
The Chiefs managed to grab the lead with an early second half try to winger Solomon Alaimalo and a penalty to McKenzie. The Blues replied with a try to scrumhalf Finlay Christie and held onto a four-point lead for 25 minutes.
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