Super Rugby Aupiki: Chiefs Manawa rally to begin title defence with big win over Hurricanes Poua

Chiefs Manawa have rallied from an early 16-point deficit to begin the defence of their Super Rugby Aupiki crown with a 53-21 win over Hurricanes Poua at Levin Domain.

Lock Joanah Ngan-Woo sparked the Hurricanes from kickoff, producing two damaging runs that resulted in tries to hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate and winger Ayesha Leti-I'iga, as the home side raced out to a 14-0 lead.

Chiefs hooker Luka Connor scored off a lineout drive to keep the champions in touch, but when flanker Rhiarna Ferris gathered a crosskick from first-five Carys Dallinger and dashed 70 metres to score, Poua led 21-5 and an upset seemed on the card.

Tanya Kalounivale in action for Chiefs Manawa
Tanya Kalounivale in action for Chiefs Manawa. Photo credit: Getty Images

Those hopes were quickly dashed, as Manawa used their forward dominance to claw their way back. From a tighthead inside the Hurricanes 22 - one of six for the game - prop Tanya Kalounuivale rumbled over, then captain Kennedy Simon scored off the back of a pushover scrum.

Poua's cause was not helped, when prop Krystal Murray was yellow-carded shortly before halftime and the Chiefs finally took the lead 22-21 at the break, when Connor crossed for her second try.

The second half was oneway traffic, as the titleholders piled on five unanswered tries - including Connor's third - to emerge easy winners and send a message to their rivals.

"I'm proud of the girls," said Simon. "We had a couple of injuries to our front row and Tanya had a standout performance to go 70 minutes.

"We're in sort of a rebuilding phase, where we've lost a lot of players, but we had 12 debutants today and they were outstanding.

"We could rely on our set-piece and when the bench came on, it was seamless."

Chiefs Manawa face the Blues - their nearest rivals in the inaugural season - next Saturday.

The Blues were toppled 33-31 by the South Island Matatū in their season-opener, falling agonisingly short of forcing overtime, as Black Ferns captain Ruahei Demant hooked her conversion attempt after the final siren.

The southerners scored three unanswered tries to open the encounter, running out to a 19-0 lead that had the northerners playing catch-up the entire match.

Matatū celebrate their win over the Blue
Matatū celebrate their win over the Blues. Photo credit: Photosport

Momentum swung the Blues' way, when Matatū captain Alana Bremner was sinbinned, with her team still leading 33-14. Wingers Jaymie Kolose and Katelynn Vaha'akolo, and replacement prop Sophie Fisher brought the visitors back into the contest, but Demant missed two handy conversions that could have snatched victory.

The result marked the first Super Rugby Aupiki victory for Matatū, who went winless in their inaugural campaign. 

"I'm so proud of my team - first win in this jersey and first time playing at home," said Bremner. "It means so much, it's super special.

"I'm glad both teams could get so many points on the board tonight."

Chiefs Manawa 53 (Connor 3, Kalounivale, Simon, C Bremner, Daals, Smith & Faleafaga tries; Tubic conversion, Williason 3 conversions) Hurricanes Poua 21 (Ngata-Aerengamate, Lei-I'iga & Ferris tries; Dallinger 3 conversions)

Matatū 33 (Reynolds, A Bremner, Mataele, Hini & Jenkins tries; Holmes 4 conversions) Blues 31 (Kalose 2, Gago, Vaha'akolo & Fisher tries; Demant 3 conversions)