Charlie Ngatai scored four tries as the Chiefs thrashed the Force 53-10 in Hamilton on Saturday.
The Chiefs arrived back in New Zealand earlier this week after games in Port Elizabeth and Buenos Aires, but that gruelling travel schedule did not affect them at Waikato Stadium. Instead of fading in the second half, the hosts stepped up a gear, scoring seven tries and 41 unanswered points. Had Damian McKenzie had a better night with the boot, the final scoreline would have been even more impressive.
The five log points picked up by the Chiefs ensures they will remain top of the Australasian group after five rounds of Super Rugby, while the Force stay ninth on the 10-team log.
This was a highly entertaining Super Rugby fixture from start to finish.
The visitors dominated possession and territory during the first 10 minutes, but it was the Chiefs who opened the scoring with a brilliant counter-attacking try that began when Sam Cane forced a turnover inside his 22. McKenzie opted to run the ball out, rather than kick, with it going through the hands of James Lowe, McKenzie again, Brad Weber and Aaron Cruden before coming back to McKenzie, who went over in the left-hand corner.
McKenzie missed the touchline conversion, with Peter Grant getting the visitors on the board with a penalty at the end of the first quarter.
The Chiefs were then punished for playing some high-risk rugby inside their 22. Instead of going to ground with the ball, a retreating Sam McNicol passed to an under-pressure McKenzie, who conceded possession. From the ruck, Alby Mathewson switched with Ben Tapuai, who scored a converted try under the sticks.
McKenzie was off target with his first penalty attempt, but the Chiefs regained the lead five minutes before the break when Michael Leitch picked up the ball from the back of a 5m scrum and broke away to score. McKenzie slotted the conversion to make it 12-10.
The Chiefs struck again five minutes into the second half when they won a turnover on the Force 10m, and six phases later Ngatai scored their third try.
The Force were reduced to 14 men on the 55-minute mark when Angus Cottrell was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle. The Chiefs opted to scrum from the penalty and were rewarded with a bonus-point try. Ngatai passed inside to McKenzie with the fullback offloading in the tackle to Cruden, who did well to collect the ball at his feet and put Toni Pulu away in the right-hand corner.
The Chiefs would score another two tries while Cottrell was in the bin, with Ngatai beating five defenders to score his second and James Lowe diving over in the left-hand corner.
The hosts predictably emptied their bench and it was Stephen Donald, playing his first match for the franchise since 2011, who had a big hand in their next try, putting McKenzie away.
Ngatai then scored another two tries in the final two minutes to take the Chiefs past 50, with the final whistle putting the Force out of their misery.
CHIEFS – 53
Tries : Damian McKenzie (11,72), Michael Leitch (33), Charlie Ngatai (45,61,78,80) , Toni Pulu (57), James Lowe(64)
Cons : Damian McKenzie (35,46,65) , Stephen Donald (80)
FORCE – 10
Tries : Ben Tapuai (24)
Penalties : Peter Grant (22)
Cons : Peter Grant (25)
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sam McNicol, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden(cc), 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (cc) 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Taleni Seu, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 19 James Tucker, 20 Sam Henwood, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Toni Pulu
Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Solomoni (Junior Rasolea), 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pekahou Cowan
Replacements: 16 Chris Heiberg, 17 Nathan Charles, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Sitiveni (Stevie) Mafi, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Ian Prior, 23 Albert Nikoro
Date: Saturday, March 26
Venue: FMG Stadium, Hamilton
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Referees: Paul Williams, Brett Johnson
TMO: Glenn Newman