HAMILTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Chiefs overcame a courageous performance from the Sunwolves 27-20 in Super Rugby on Saturday, though the Sunwolves ended the match with only 13 players.
Fullback Damian McKenzie touched down once in each half as the Chiefs managed to do just enough in a hopelessly flawed performance to hold out the best ever effort by the Tokyo-based Sunwolves against a New Zealand opponent.
A try by center Derek Carpenter in the 67th minute, converted by Jamie-Jerry Taulagi who also kicked a penalty in the 74th left the Sunwolves only seven points behind the Chiefs.
That raised the astonishing prospect that the Sunwolves, who have won only two matches in their first two seasons in Super Rugby, might at least draw if not beat a team that won the championship in 2012 and 2013.
The Chiefs were able to just hold out, especially when Carpenter was yellow carded close to fulltime for a deliberate knock-on and Taulagi was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle.
Even with that numerical advantage, the home side was still unable to extend its lead. Throughout the match it showed a lack of ability to set a platform in set play for the expansive game it hoped to play, or to retain possession for more than a few phases.
The Sunwolves were aggressive in defense which threw the Chiefs off their game, and they were able to scramble only three tries from fragments of possession.
"A tough night's a good way to put it, mainly due to our own errors," Chiefs captain Sam Cane said. "The Sunwolves came to play and gee they played with some courage.
"When they put us under pressure we were guilty of throwing away quite a bit of ball so we tried to tighten it up and we probably went one step too far. Some of the ball was pretty slow and we struggled to get any go-forward off it."
Hooker Hika Elliot scored their first try after four minutes from a free kick which followed a penalty and scrum.
Winger Solomon Alaimalo scored in the 25th from an overthrown lineout, then McKenzie scored a brilliant try in the 40th to make the lead 20-3 at halftime.
The Sunwolves struck back with a try to scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka early in the second half.
McKenzie weaved through the defense for his second try in the 60th, making the lead 27-10, but the Sunwolves again revived with Carpenter's try.
Throughout the match the Chiefs were incapable of establishing a stable base for their attacking play at set-pieces or in their execution from broken play. Much of the blame belonged to co-captains Cane, who had a poor game at No. 8, and flyhalf Aaron Cruden, who failed in his tactical management.