Charlie Ngatai bagged four tries as the attack-focused Waikato Chiefs opened up in the second half to thump the Western Force 53-10 in their Super rugby clash in Hamilton on Saturday.
It was all one-way traffic after half-time as the Chiefs added 41 unanswered points to their 12-10 lead at the break.
They outscored the Force nine tries to two and picked up a bonus point to remain firmly at the top of the New Zealand conference.
Ngatai, so far a one-Test All Blacks centre, left the Force grasping at shadows as he opened up in the second half.
He scored his first try five minutes after the break, and his fourth finished off a 40-minute period peppered with inventive off-loads that mesmerised the Australians.
The Force had arrived in Hamilton expecting to run the Chiefs off their feet with the Waikato side expected to be tired from circumnavigating the globe with games in South Africa and Argentina in the past fortnight.
Instead it was the Australians who ran out of steam against a Chiefs side intent on keeping the ball alive in the high-tempo game.
“There was a lot of talk about the travel… but it was great to be able to put on a performance that we’re proud of,” Chiefs captain Sam Cane said.
“In the first half we played a good brand of footy but we weren’t accurate enough. In the second half some of those passes started to stick and we were a little bit more clinical at the breakdown.”
A turnover by Cane sparked the first try with Damian McKenzie making the initial break inside his own 22 and after the ball had passed through eight sets of hands McKenzie was there to finish the move 80 metres downfield.
The Force briefly had their tails up when a Peter Grant penalty and a converted try to Ben Tapuai put them ahead 10-5.
But closing in on half-time, Michael Leitch broke off the back of a five-metre scrum for the Chiefs second try and with McKenzie adding the extras the 2012-2013 champions hit the lead again and never looked back.
After Ngatai’s try to open the second half, the Chiefs’ next three to Toni Pulu, Ngatai and James Lowe, came within 10 minutes while Force backrower Angus Cottrell was in the sin bin.
McKenzie bagged his second try and Ngatai his third and fourth in the closing minutes while Chiefs folk hero and the All Blacks 2011 World Cup final match-winner Stephen Donald made a 10-minute cameo at the end and kicked the final conversion.