The Chiefs know all about being kicked when you’re down. Ian Foster’s struggling side was searching for what would have been a deserved draw but had two late try-scoring attempts ruled out by the video referee as their horror start to the season continued with a loss to the Sharks in Hamilton.
A quiet match exploded into action in the third quarter and plenty of it came from the Chiefs as they played a desperate game of catchup.
Duncan Johnstone writes for RugbyHeaven NZ that The Chiefs looked capable of earning at least that draw but in the end they came up short at 15-22 and had to be satisfied with a solitary bonus point.
First flanker Liam Messam and then replacement wing Mike Delaney had tries disallowed in the frantic final minutes as the Chiefs camped inside the Sharks 22.
The Sharks defence held firm and they saw out a treasured win on Kiwi soil and their third in a row this year.
Add this result to the Chiefs injuries and some sloppy form over the past two rounds and it was another heartbreaking night for the locals.
But it was a big step in the right direction, albeit with another big dose of frustration, meaning the Chiefs remain win-less and under increasing pressure.
For a team that had an absolute nightmare against the Waratahs last week, this was a far better performance.
The Chiefs sorted out their scrum problems adequately and got their lineout working again well. They were crucial ingredients against the big Waratahs pack.
Right wing Lelia Masaga continued his strong showing while halfback Brendon Leonard is quickly getting back to the sort of play that took him to the top in quick time.
Big Sione Lauaki commanded plenty of attention from the Sharks defence and not all of it was legal.
But the Sharks played a clever game in the damp conditions. Their handling was quite remarkable at times with not one dropped ball in the first spell.
The Chiefs were guilty of some sloppy finishing although they regathered their poise in the second spell.
Francois Styen and JP Pietersen were all class for the visitors, Steyn scoring one try and setting up one of Pietersen’s two touchdowns.
The Chiefs now host the Western Force in what will be an absolute must-win game while the Sharks play a Blues side that will be battle and travel weary from their trip back from South Africa.
On a difficult night at Waikato Stadium the Chiefs got an early lead through a Stephen Donald penalty.
It was a good tussle from there with the Sharks playing patiently and the Chiefs showing flashes of their backline potential.
The Sharks, having weathered being down to 14 men for 10 minutes, finally broke through in the 38th minute with the attack finished by Francois Steyn.
That gave them a 7-3 lead at the break.
The Chiefs started the second spell with a Masaga break taking them to the Sharks’ line. A perfect Donald wipers kick was dropped by lock Kevin O’Neill with the line wide open.
But they maintained the pressure and eventually lively hooker Aled de Malmanche burrowed over the touchdown to regain the lead.
But it was short-lived with Rory Kockott landing the goal after the Chiefs were penalised in the shadow of their posts amidst some desperate defence.
Then Sharks wing JP Pietersen showed how to finish as got in behind the Chiefs defenders and hauled in Steyn’s cross kick.
Pietersen repeated the brilliance a couple of minutes later as the Sharks took control at 22-7.
But the Chiefs picked themselves up immediately and forged on to attack. From a quick tap penalty Leonard barged through three defenders to score by the posts and it was game on again.
The Chiefs maintained their momentum and were heartbroken when a Messam attempt was ruled out by the video ref as being held up.
But they were devastated when the video ref ruled that Delaney was out as he grounded for a touchdown in a dive to the corner.
Then they came up short themselves with repeated thrusts at the Sharks line either side of the final hooter.
Chiefs 15: Aled de Malmanche, Brendon Leonard tries; Stephen Donald con, pen.
Sharks 22: Francois Steyn, JP Pietersen 2 tries; Rory Kockott 2 con, pen.Tweet