Chiefs power past Highlanders
The Chiefs got their Super Rugby campaign off to a fine start when they claimed a deserved 24-15 victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday.
The result is a momentous one for the men from Hamilton as it ends a six-match losing streak against the Highlanders.
With this being two New Zealand teams, it will come as no surprise that this was a thrilling affair, as both sides ran the ball from all areas of the field. Although, the Chiefs made better use of their chances and their execution inside the Highlanders’ 22 was particularly impressive.
Although the Highlanders were competitive in the tight exchanges, they were unable to contain the Chiefs’ ability to move the ball with pace and the visitors eventually outscored them by three tries to none, claiming a bonus point in the process.
The Highlanders drew first blood courtesy of a Lima Sopoaga penalty inside the first five minutes but the game came alive in the 10th minute when James Lowe went over for the first try.
This was after he gathered a wayward pass from Aaron Smith close to the halfway line and the flyer showed great strength and determination to shrug off a couple of challengers before dotting down under the posts.
Aaron Cruden added the easy extras and the Chiefs then increased their lead with Lowe again the chief protagonist, when he intercepted a Waisake Naholo offload just outside the home side’s 22 before racing away to score his second try.
Cruden, once again, slotted the conversion which meant the Chiefs led 14-3 after the first quarter, but the Highlanders didn’t take that lying down and were soon camped inside the visitors’ 22.
The 2015 champions thought they had opened their account in the 23rd minute when Naholo gathered a Lima Sopoaga cross-field kick before crossing the whitewash, but his effort was disallowed when the Television Match Official ruled that he had knocked the ball on in the process.
The hosts were dealt a massive blow on the hour-mark when their co-captain and full-back Ben Smith was forced to leave the field when he banged his head on the ground after competing for a high ball with Damian McKenzie.
The Highlanders continued to attack but the Chiefs stood firm in defence and two Sopoaga penalties, late in the half, was the home side’s only reward before the interval.
The Chiefs continued to attack and were rewarded two minutes after the restart when Hika Elliot crossed for their third try after combining brilliantly with Tawera Kerr-Barlow at a lineout inside the Highlanders.
That score caught the Highlanders by surprise and although they upped the ante on attack they couldn’t breach the Chiefs’ try-line as the error count rose.
Sopoaga added two further penalties midway through the half but Cruden secured the win for the visitors when he landed a three-pointer from the kicking tee in the 68th minute, silencing the home crowd in the process.
Pens: Sopoaga 5
Tries: Lowe 2, Elliot
Cons: Cruden 3
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Adrian Smith, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Jackson Hemopo, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Mitchell Brown, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams, 23 Shaun Stevenson
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)