The Chiefs kicked off their Super Rugby title defence with a thrilling 41-27 victory over the Highlanders at in Dunedin on Friday.
The Chiefs kicked off their Super Rugby title defence with a thrilling 41-27 victory over the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Friday.
This was the perfect way to start the weekend in what was a highly entertaining spectacle between two class acts that left you begging for more.
Both sides showed plenty on attack which led to seven spectacular tries and were solid enough on defence, but in the end the Chiefs were ultimately deserved winners – though the Highlanders can hold their heads high.
Chiefs wing cum centre Tim Nanai-Williams showed he can cut the mustard in midfield, and bagged a brace of tries for his efforts while unwanted former Blues pivot Gareth Anscombe showcased his kicking skills by providing half the team's points from the tee.
The Chiefs struck first thanks to an early Anscombe penalty. But the Highlanders hit back when, in their first excursion into Chiefs territory, crossed for the first try which set the tone for the rest of the match.
Full-back Ben Smith did tremendously well to collect an offload from Lima Sopoaga at his boots before spinning out the tackle to score under the posts. Sopoaga added the easy extras, and the Highlanders were in front.
The Chiefs wasted little time in retaking the lead when Nanai-Williams burst clear and beat Ben Smith for pace to touch down for his first try of the match. Anscombe raised the flag with his conversion and then added two three-pointers to put the Chiefs into a handy lead.
The Highlanders then started to dominate possession as well as territory and were rewarded before the break with a crucial score through captain Hosea Gear who made a difficult try look easy as he brushed aside two Chiefs players to power over in the corner. Sopoaga converted to cut the deficit to two points at half-time (14-16).
The free-flowing game continued in the second half, with the Highlanders leapfrogging the Chiefs once more after Sopoaga added a penalty. The intriguing see-saw battle then saw Chiefs wing Patrick Osborne over in the corner for his first Super Rugby try, before Kade Poki exposed some weak defence from Nanai-Williams to keep his side in the hunt.
Sopoaga nailed the conversion and a penalty to make it 27-21.
The Chiefs weren't done yet, however, and hit the front yet again through winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
The game was still anyone's for the taking, with both teams throwing the ball about. But it was the Chiefs who took their chances when Nanai-Williams scooped up a dropped ball from the Highlanders inside his own 22, and raced 80m for the decisive try.
Anscombe converted and then added two more penalties to put the game out of sight.
Tries: B Smith, Gear, Poki
Cons: Sopoaga 3
Pens: Sopoaga 3
Tries: Nanai-Williams 2, Osborne, Tikoirotuma
Cons: Anscombe 3
Pens: Anscombe 5
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear (c), 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Buxton Popoali'i.
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Toby Smith, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Charlie Ngatai, 22 Lelia Masaga.
Referee: Steve Walsh