It’s just round one, but the Chiefs will be crossing their fingers this one doesn’t come back to bite them in a few months’ time.
After doing all the hard work in swinging the momentum back their way and looking good to take the spoils in their Super Rugby season-opener against the Highlanders in Hamilton on Friday, a youthful home side were left to rue what might have been, in a 30-27 loss.
Holding a 24-13 lead with quarter of an hour left, the Chiefs looked to have the game sealed, only to see the Highlanders – down to 14 men thanks to a red card to Sio Tomkinson – snatch victory in the dying stages.
The Highlanders snatched a come-from-behind win against the Chiefs in the opening round of the Super Rugby season.
Returning veteran Stephen Donald knew more than anyone his new-look side had blown a golden opportunity to get their campaign humming, and he’s imploring his team-mates to take on the “harsh lessons” ahead of a trip to Canberra to face the Brumbies next Saturday.
“It was a bit frustrating, the boys did so well for 60-65 minutes and we just let it slip at the end,” he said.
“Eighty minutes, it’s a cliche, but we probably stopped playing, to be fair. We probably thought we had the winning of it. Unfortunately we shut up shop a little.
Stephen Donald knows the Chiefs must heed some tough lessons from their season-opener.
“So it was a pretty good lesson for us, the level we’ve got to get to.”
Ironically, there was Donald, the 35-year-old having only signed with the club at the start of the week as an injury replacement for Tiaan Falcon and coming off the bench for some “very unexpected” football, on at fullback of all places, amid a very green backline.
“Yeah, two weeks ago I was sitting on my dinghy fishing in the Manukau Harbour,” he said. “I didn’t really expect to be playing Super Rugby.
“[I’m] a bit stiff, but I’m rapt to be back here. Obviously only coming in on Monday, not ideal preparation for a Super season. But hopefully I get better and get a few kms in the legs.”
What game-time the 2011 All Blacks World Cup hero logs from here remains to be seen, but coach Colin Cooper is hopeful star playmaker Damian McKenzie will be recovered from his ankle injury for next week, while former Blues midfielder Orbyn Leger made a good fist of his surprise shot at No 10.
Orbyn Leger made a good fist of his shot at No 10, and could play a covering role going forward.
“There’s a lot of great people that have worn the 10 jersey before, so I had a duty to sort of uphold it and put my mana in there as well,” said Leger, who wasn’t part of the original squad but is a likely 10/12 cover from here on.
“Because this competition’s quite brutal, people get banged around quite a bit, and you’ve just got to be ready if you’re in that position in between full squad and replacement.”
And it’s certainly the case at the Chiefs. Last year they were hit hard on the injury front, and you can sense some deja vu.
Prop Atu Moli – just back after a horrific leg problem from round one last year – was a late scratching from the opening match after injuring an elbow, with Cooper saying he could be out for up to four or five weeks. Tevita Mafileo was a resulting debutant, the former New Zealand Under 20s rep having been plucked from a training in November and continuing to flourish.
Already without Kane Hames, Liam Polwart and Luke Jacobson – the trio all in recoveries from concussion – along with Sam Cane (neck), Marty McKenzie (hip), Jack Debreczeni (abdominals), Sean Wainui (wrist) and Solomon Alaimalo (wrist), the Chiefs will be extra hopeful Brodie Retallick, Brad Weber and Shaun Stevenson pull up fine, after all were forced to leave the field on Friday.
Chiefs – 27
Tries – Ardron, Ta’avao, Nanai-Seturo (2)
Pen – Donald
Con – Weber (2)
Highlanders – 30
Tries – Parkinson, Frizell, A. Smith
Pen – J. Ioane (3)
Con – J. Ioane (3)
Cards – Tomkinson (Red, 67′)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Ref 1: Federico Anselmi
Assistant Ref 2: Nick Briant
TMO: Aaron Paterson
Chiefs: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Bailyn Sullivan, 13 Tumua Manu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Orbyn Leger, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick (captain), 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Atu Moli.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Telani Seu, 20 Jesse Parete, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Ataata Moeakiola.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Luke Whitelock (co-captain), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Jackson Hemopo, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Shannon Frizell, 20 Dillon Hunt, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Patelesio Tomkinson.