The Chiefs got back to winning ways on Saturday after beating a spirited Highlanders outfit 27-21 in a tight Super 14 derby clash.
The Chiefs got back to winning ways on Saturday after beating a spirited Highlanders outfit 27-21 in a closely fought Super 14 derby clash.
Down 15-10 at half-time following sustained pressure from the Highlanders, the hosts bounced back in the second half in superb fashion to avoid a fourth defeat on the trot.
It wasn't clinical, but the Chiefs will just be pleased to have stopped the slide. They managed this by being willing to suppress their natural inclination for all out attack and embrace a slightly more conservative approach.
This is when they are most dangerous and if they can replicate this type of performance in the coming weeks, they will be strong contenders for a play-off berth.
However, the visitors came close to causing an upset and could well have snatched victory if replacement flanker Tim Boys had held a high pass from fellow reserve Matt Berquist with the tryline open five minutes from the end.
Nobody could have argued if the Highlanders had snatched victory in a close, error-ridden match at Bay Park, although the Chiefs gained an edge through the slick work of fly-half Mike Delany and maintained possession throughout.
The Round Eight victory now extends the Chiefs' winning run against the southerners to seven, dating back to 2003.
The Highlanders' pack, which was dominant throughout the first half, pushed the Chiefs off their scrum feed and fly-half Robbie Robinson snapped a drop-goal to open the scoring in the twelfth minute.
But straight after the kick-off, Jason Shoemark's early tackle on Dwayne Sweeney gave Stephen Donald the chance to level the scores and he did not fail from 30 metres out.
A second Highlanders' tighthead saw number eight Steven Setephano burst off the back of the scrum to be pulled down inches short. Quick ruck ball had rangy lock Hayden Triggs charge over to place the ball in the right-hand corner.
Israel Dagg hit the post with the conversion as the visitors took an 8-3 lead.
But the Chiefs hit straight back after Sione Lauaki won clean ball off the top of a line-out. Brendon Leonard gave to Delany who put Donald through a weak Robinson tackle and the centre put his side in front for the first time in the match, 10-8 with six minutes of the half remaining.
The lead swung again when Fetu'u Vainikolo started and finished a quick-hands counter-attack from half-way. Dagg converted from the sideline to give the visitors a 15-10 half-time advantage.
The Chiefs' error count dropped after half-time and Lauaki accepted a sweet Donald cut out pass to cross. Donald's second penalty – he kicked five shots from six in a 12-point haul – was followed by a decisive, burrowing try to prop Sona Taumalolo with 20 minutes of the match remaining.
Donald converted to give his side a nine-point lead going into the final quarter.
The Highlanders responded soon afterwards with Dagg's second penalty of the half to earn his side a bonus point but the match remained scoreless from there. The visitors had a marvelous opportunity to score, but Boys coughed the ball up with the tryline at his mercy.
It would prove to be a fatal error in the final analyses as the Highlanders were never able to craft another scoring opportunity. The result ends any realistic hopes Jimmy Cowan and his troops may have harboured of reaching the semi-finals.
Man of the match: Highlanders flanker Adam Thomson was at the helm of a resolute defensive performance which was let down by some poor option-taking and handling in the backs. But our vote goes to Chiefs pivot Mike Delany who put in a flawless performance for the home side. Playing on his home ground and starting his first game for the Chiefs at ten, the Bay of Plenty star proved just why he was taken along on the All Blacks end-of-year tour in 2009.
Tries: Donald, Lauaki, Taumalolo
Cons: Donald 3
Pens: Donald 2
Tries: Triggs, Vainikolo
Pens: Dagg 2
Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 Dwayne Sweeney, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Vern Kamo, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Jarrad Hoeata, 19 Colin Bourke 20 Junior Poluleuligaga, 21 Jackson Willison, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.
Highlanders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Kenny Lynn, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Robbie Robinson, 9 Jimmy Cowan (c), 8 Steven Setephano, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Clint Newland, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Chris King.
Replacements: 16 Jason Macdonald, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Joe Tuineau, 19 Tim Boys/John Hardie, 20 Sean Romans, 21 Mat Berquist, 22 James Paterson.
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)