Center Charlie Ngatai scored two first-half tries to lift the Chiefs to a 35-27 win over the Western Force and to a temporary position atop the table in Super Rugby on Friday.
Ngatai's double helped the Chiefs to a 23-8 halftime lead which they extended to 30-8 with a try to winger Tim Nanai-Williams before the Force mounted a stirring comeback with three tries.
The Chiefs' fourth straight win, achieved with a bonus point from a contentious penalty try, lifted them to the top of the New Zealand conference and the overall table.
The Hurricanes led the tournament by a point from the Chiefs after suffering their first loss of the season last weekend at the hands of defending champion New South Wales Waratahs.
The Chiefs' win lifted them to 37 points, four ahead of the Wellington-based Hurricanes, who can reclaim the lead with a win over the struggling Queensland Reds in Brisbane on Sunday in the last match of this 11th round.
The Chiefs seized control of Friday's match in an outstanding first half in which their forwards splintered the Force defense and created opportunities for two quick tries by Ngatai.
His first in the 19th minute was the best of the match. Nanai-Williams wriggled through a tackle and passed infield to All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick, who cracked the defense. Retallick stepped through a tackle and passed to scrumhalf Brad Webber, who quickly fed Ngatai for a try between the posts.
The Force played the last 50 minutes of the match with 14 men after scrumhalf Ian Prior was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle on Nanai-Williams. They still showed exceptional character to surge back into the match with second-half tries to Luke Morahan, Matt Hodgson and Heath Tessman.
The Chiefs were able to stave off their rally with Nanai-Williams' brilliant solo try in the 66th -- he shrugged off four tackles to score. The 46th-minute penalty try from a disintegrating scrum was also decisive: The Chiefs were still 10 meters from the line when the try was awarded, and there seemed to be considerable doubt that a try was imminent.
Chiefs captain Matt Symons admitted his team's performance flagged in the second half.
"I'm not quite sure at the moment why that happened. We'll have to look at the tape," Symons said. "Credit to the Force, they produced a great second-half fightback.
"We knew they would. We knew they are a tough side in the second half, and that's something we have to look at come Monday."
Chiefs 35 (Charlie Ngatai 2, Tim Nanai Williams tries; penalty try; Marty McKenzie 3 conversions, 3 penalties), Western Force 27 (Angus Cottrell, Luke Morahan, Matt Hodgson, Heath Tessman tries; Luke Burton 2 conversions, penalty). HT: 23-8.