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Liam Messam led a steadfast defence to guide the Waikato Chiefs to a 23-16 victory over the Auckland Blues in a bruising Super 15 local derby on Saturday.
Scoring in the first half was restricted to penalties as the defending champions turned 9-6 ahead, going on to notch two tries in the second half to the Blues' one.
It was the fourth year in succession the Chiefs have won the passionate derby between the neighbouring franchises, and it extended their lead in the New Zealand conference to 25 points.
The Blues' 77th-minute try by George Moala earned them a late bonus point to move within a point of second-placed Wellington Hurricanes and one ahead of the Canterbury Crusaders, who are yet to play this weekend.
Much of the game was a physical battle, with the most telling moments the two tries the Chiefs scored to create a desperately-needed buffer.
"It was an ugly win but we will take the four points," said Messam, noting it was the defensive effort, and not the attack for which they are known, that carried the day for the Chiefs.
"It's been like that for the last two weeks. We're definitely making a lot of opportunities for ourselves but we're not finishing them off."
Big prop Ben Tameifuna was too strong for the Blues to contain when he drove over for the first try six minutes after half-time.
When a Chris Noakes penalty narrowed the gap to 16-9, Richard Kahui produced a piece of individual excellence to score the second try.
The All Blacks centre charged down an attempted clearing kick by his Blues opposite Francis Saili, gathered the ball and ran 20 metres through a scrambling defence to the line.
Gareth Anscombe converted to put the Chiefs 23-9 in front with 17 minutes remaining, and they held off everything the Blues could throw at them until Moala's late try.
In the first half, the Chiefs dominated possession and territory but found it impossible to cross the Blues line. Their points came from three penalties to Anscombe, while Noakes landed two for the Blues.
The Blues' best opportunity to put the Chiefs under pressure came when Bundee Aki was yellow-carded in the seventh minute, but despite the one-man advantage in the back line the Blues opted not to play wide.
Instead they focussed on driving through the forwards, but the decision to take on the Chiefs pack backfired as Messam marshalled his troops to deny the Blues any passage to the line.
The Chiefs came closest to scoring a try during Aki's absence when Anscombe dived over to complete a 60-metre move, only for the television match official to rule there was an earlier infringement by the Chiefs.
The Blues are at home to the Otago Highlanders next weekend while the Chiefs have a bye.