A second-half resurgence fell just short for the Waratahs in a 46-31 loss to the Chiefs.
After traliling by as much as 29 points just after half-time, a back-end flurry cut the margin back to just eight points with five minutes left, but it was ultimately another run left all too late.
Any hopes the Waratahs had of snapping Australia’s 0-21 record against New Zealand sides looked snuffed out by two Chiefs tries in four minutes after half-time, before they piled on 28 points to seven in the ensuing half hour.
A James Lowe hat-trick sealed the Chiefs’ win, with the winger standing up against mammoth Waratahs winger Taqele Naiyaravoro.
The Waratahs committed to their ball-in-hand philosophy but the Chiefs beat them at their own game, playing frantic rugby and, most critically, executing timely offloads.
NSW tested the Chiefs’ defence but couldn’t come away with points off the boot or over the line, before the home side linked up for a super Mitchell Brown try in the 15th minute, while Damian McKenzie compounded the pain with vital penalties early on.
The Waratahs worked hard but couldn’t keep up with a rampaging McKenzie, who made a critical break to set up James Lowe for a try in the 32nd minute.
Despite having almost half the possession and a favourable territory share, the Waratahs found themselves without points deep into the opening half, as the Chiefs simply kept the ball alive when they had it.
A 38th-minute yellow card for Tolu Latu for tripping McKenzie put them a man down, an all-too-familiar spot for the Waratahs this season, with no one to blame but themselves.
Foley nabbed a penalty to put the Waratahs on the board just on the stroke of half-time, with a 15-point margin to run down.
Lowe had his second after a lineout executed like it was being run on a Tuesday afternoon training session went through three pairs of hands, with an offload out of the back of Tawera Kerr-Barlow’s hand landing.
Kerr-Barlow had the Chiefs’ fourth barely a minute later, albeit off what seemed a potential forward pass, as the Waikato side blew the game open
A Rob Horne intercept gave the Waratahs their first try of the night in the 50th minute and sparked a mini-resurgence from NSW.
Relentless pressure from the visitors paid off with a Will Skelton try just six minutes later, coming from a driving maul, capping off one of his best outings of 2017.
Kerr-Barlow’s second in the 60th minute put a stop to the Waratahs’ momentum, before a scuffle led to yellow cards for Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan and Chiefs flanker Brown.
Cam Clark finished off a solid game slipping through the Chiefs defence to score a consolation try, before a spectacular 60-metre Sekope Kepu run narrowed the gap to just eight.
Lowe’s third sealed the Chiefs victory and all but ended any hopes the Waratahs had of an unlikely finals berth, still trailing the Brumbies by nine competition points, with one less game to play than their southern rivals.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said a difficult start meant they were facing an uphll battle early on.
“I think the damage was done in the early stages of the second half, Chiefs got a really excellent roll on and then obviously for us the yellow cards were pretty costly,” he said.
“Our inconsistencies are still there. We don’t seem to have a problem with ball in hand scoring tries, we have a problem conceding them.”
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Skipper Michael Hooper said the game symbolised their 2017 journey.
“(It was ) very frustrating and then very enjoyable in different parts of the game,” he said.
“(It is) frustrating how easily we can, first of all, get points put on us and then how easily we can put points on teams. So, yeah, overall very frustrating – the story of our season.”
Tries: Lowe 3, Kerr-Barlow 2, Brown
Cons: McKenzie 5
Pens: McKenzie 2
Yellow Cards: Brown (64′)
Tries: Horne, Skelton, Clark, Kepu
Cons: Foley 2
Yellow cards: Latu (38′) Ryan (64′)