The Chiefs ended the Sunwolves’ chances of a dream start to their last season in the competition.
The New Zealand franchise outscored their hosts by seven tries to three in a 43-17 win in an exciting encounter at the Prince Chichibu Stadium, in Tokyo, on Saturday.
The Sunwolves, although outclassed, heartily contributed to the entertainment at a packed stadium – a rarity in Super Rugby.
The Sunwolves, who began their farewell season with a 36-27 upset of the Melbourne Rebels two weeks ago, caught the visitors napping after just six minutes when flyhalf Garth April wriggled over to open the scoring.
But the Chiefs, champions in 2012 and 2013, struck back with a quickfire double, McKenzie releasing Solomon Alaimalo to touch down in the corner before Shaun Stevenson capped a great move to score on the opposite wing.
After a line-out set-play allowed Chiefs captain Brad Weber to smash his way through on 24 minutes, McKenzie pin-balled off two tackles to tee up Alaimalo, who crossed the try line but handed the ball back to McKenzie to ground as a reward for his industry.
Sunwolves hooker Jaba Bregvadze bowled over on the halftime buzzer to reduce the deficit at the break to 24-12, but flank Lachlan Boshier raced through to add a fifth try for the Chiefs soon after the restart.
Shogo Nakano pulled one back with seven minutes left, only for the New Zealanders to hit back with two late scores from Quinn Tupaea and Kaleb Trask, completing a fine, seven-try display and give the scoreline a slightly flattering hue.
“If you don’t turn up with the right attitude any team can beat you,” Weber said, referring to last season’s humiliating home defeat by the Sunwolves.
“We found that out the hard way, that (result) was a massive driver for us today,” added the Chiefs skipper, who credited his team’s dominance at the breakdown for halting the home side’s early momentum.
“It was incredibly important, especially against a Sunwolves team who like to play at pace. We needed some of our big guys to put their heads in dark places and slow the ball down.”
McKenzie, who returned in last weekend’s 25-15 victory over the Crusaders in Hamilton, slotted three of five conversions in blustery conditions against the Sunwolves.
The Tokyo-based side are playing their final season in the Southern Hemisphere’s elite competition, having recorded just eight victories in 61 games through their first five terms.
“We’re struggling to take our opportunities when they come,” admitted Sunwolves captain Jake Schatz.
“Maybe we switched off at important moments and against a team like the Chiefs you can’t afford to turn the ball over that easily.”
Man of the match: Who else but that man Lachlan Boshier – the all-action loose forward who seems to do no wrong and is the epitome of everything that is good about the Chiefs. No doubt he is the new face of New Zealand openside flanks and should be in an All Black jersey later this year.
For the Sunwolves:
Tries: April, Bregvadze, Nakano
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Alaimalo 2, Stevenson, Webber, Boshier, Tupaea, Trask
Cons: Stevenson 4
Yellow card: Tyler Ardron (Chiefs, 39 – repeated infringements, collapsing the maul illegally)
Sunwolves: 15 James Dargaville, 14 Siosaia Fifita, 13 Keisuke Moriya (captain), 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Tautalatasi Tasi, 10 Garth April, 9 Naoto Saito, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Mitch Jacobson, 5 Michael Stolberg, 4 Kotaro Yatabe, 3 Conraad Van Vuuren, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Jarred Adams.
Replacements: 16 Effie Ma’afu, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Hencus Van Wyk, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Tevita Tupou, 21 Takahiro Kimura, 22 Shogo Nakano, 23 Johannes Engelbrecht.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Quinn Tupaea, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Kaleb Trask, 9 Brad Weber (captain), 8 Dylan Nel, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Bradley Slater, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ross Geldenhuys, 18 Reuben O’Neill, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Mitchell Brown, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Tiaan Falcon, 23 Orbyn Leger.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), Tasuku Kawahara (Japan)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)