As the two-try loss hits home tomorrow morning, Captain Xavier Rush and his men will be wondering what they have to do for the pieces of their Super 12 puzzle to fall into place after dominating both possession and territory for much of the match.
Maybe head-Chief Jono Gibbes would have some suggestions.
80 minutes earlier, perfect conditions in Hamilton saw both sides unveil their greatest hits right from the kick-off. Chiefs centres Mark Ranby and Derek Maisey got the 'offensive defence' rolling with a series of slamming tackles - their efforts repaid in kind by Blues hitmen Sam Tuitupou and Luke McAlister.
And it was all Blues early. The visitors from up the road laying claim to the longest phases of the first half in the 4th and 5th minutes. Likewise, the hard, straight running of No 10 Carlos Spencer set the tone for a Blues backline determined to bury memories of the lost opportunities that marred their 18-15 struggle over the Reds in Round two.
Spencer�s opposite David Hill was the man who found his team breathing space. But there was better than searching touch-finders to come for the Chiefs, as a duo of skip-passes sent No 11 Loki Crichton storming into the Blues 22 for the first time in the 16th minute. When outstanding Blues openside Daniel Braid was pinged for joining a ruck from the side, Hill made them pay with the first three points of the match.
3-0 and a succession of quick penalties from referee Kelvin Deaker boost field position... enough for Crichton to somehow thread the inches that separated Blues fullback Mils Muliaina and the left-hand flag for a try.
The deja vu only got worse for the Blues (who also dominated early last week, only to see the Reds score first) as they watched Crichton�s wingman Sosene Anesi pounce on a baffling long throw-in from Muliaina to score under the bar.
Suddenly, it was 15-0. Crichton immediately snared another intercept, but was called back for offside � allowing centre McAlister to finally put the Blues on the board.
One other factor (but no more points) came into play before the break: the Blues lost prop John Afoa and his replacement Taufa'ao Filise to injuries, effectively de-powering the scrums.
Halftime score: 15-3 Chiefs.
McAlister and Hill both added penalties early in the second half, but the moment that best illustrated the winning of the game occurred in the 71st minute after a dazzling 60m break from McAlister. Metre by metre, the talented youngster is chased down and finally dragged to the turf by Chiefs prop Simms Davison.
The tackle spoke volumes.
For the final quarter of the match, the Blues helped themselves once again to the lion�s share of possession and territory � but were met everywhere by a feature wall (whose only feature is pain) of Chiefs king-hits. A defensive battle of attrition around the rucks & mauls that was led by nuggety No 9 Byron Kelleher together with his loosies Sione Lauaki and Marty Holah.
The response from the Blues was to spread the ball wider, where vital passes were pushed and the only statistic that climbed was the error rate.
In the interest of time-honoured sporting cliches, it seemed to be a case of the Chiefs simply wanting it more.
Held tryless, the best the Blues could muster was McAlister�s third penalty.
Some clever grubber kicks from Kelleher helped wind down the clock, but Spencer�s kicks into touch in the final minutes probably signalled a capitulation long before that.
Final score: 18-9 to the Chiefs.
Chiefs. Tries. Loki Crichton, Sosene Anesi. Conversions: David Hill. Penlaties: Hill (2).
Blues. Penalties: Luke McAlister (3).
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