Chiefs charge down Bulls' early lead in Super Rugby

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Wellington (AFP)

Northern Bulls blew a match-winning lead in a 41-28 loss to Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday, denying coach John Mitchell a win over his old Super Rugby club.

The Bulls ran rampant in the first half but faded late as the Chiefs ran in six tries to four to maintain their recent dominance over the South Africans.

The Bulls led for 63 minutes and it looked like a happy homecoming for Mitchell, who coached the Chiefs in 2001, before a Brodie Retallick-inspired fightback.

Retallick scored two tries and helped the Chiefs overcome an early Bulls' onslaught which included a brace for winger Divan Rossouw.

"The Bulls are really playing the ball this year and they scored some pretty outstanding tries tonight," Chiefs captain Sam Cane said.

"They had us under the pump early and we had to mount a bit of a comeback. It wasn't until the last play that we knew it was locked up."

It is the second time in as many weeks that the Bulls, South Africa's most successful team with three titles, have thrown away a seemingly decisive lead after leading Queensland Reds 14-3 then losing 20-14.

"We're definitely looking to move the ball and we did that in the first half, it's a shame we couldn't in the second," said Bulls captain Burger Odendaal.

"It was a lack of focus, too many handling errors."

The Bulls caught the Chiefs napping with a try to Warrick Gelant in the fourth minute after Jesse Kriel's inside pass split the home side's defence.

A rare lineout error opened the way for Jonathan Fa'auli to hit back for the Chiefs before Rossouw crossed in the corner to regain the lead for the Bulls.

Rossouw's second came after the Bulls worked the ball out wide and Kriel again found space to set up a try.

Retallick muscled his way over the line for the Chiefs but the Bulls again retaliated by running the ball for a Handre Pollard that put them up 28-14 at the break.

The Chiefs came out breathing fire at the restart, pounding the Bulls' line before Mitchell Brown crashed over the line.

They weathered 15 minutes of pressure before coming back on the counter-attack as Retallick scored his second after fending off two tacklers.

Damian McKenzie's penalty put the Chiefs ahead 29-28 before Bulls replacement prop Conraad Van Vuuren was sinbinned for a high tackle.

The Chiefs made the most of the one-man advantage with tries to Soloman Alaimalo and Anton Lienert-Brown to put the result beyond doubt.