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Chiefs crumble to Highlanders

25th February 2012 05:42

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Adam Thomson chiefs v highlanders

Highlanders: Snatch late win

The Highlanders staged a magnificent fightback to beat the Chiefs 23-19 at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday.

The Chiefs went into the break 16-9 ahead and looked on course for an opening Super Rugby win after leading by ten points with twenty minutes remaining of the match.

However, the Highlanders struck back on the hour mark with two quickfire tries to replacement Aaron Smith and centre Phil Burleigh to overtake their hosts and never looked back.

To make matters worse for the Chiefs, they now have an early casualty list to deal with following a suspected broken arm to prop Ben Afeaki, a serious-looking knee injury to winger Lelia Masaga and a hamstring complaint to scrum-half Brendon Leonard.

The Chiefs were the far better team in the first half. And despite Super Rugby debutant Chris Noakes adding two penalties to one from opposite number Aaron Cruden in the opening exchanges, the Chiefs hit the front thanks to a try by Masaga.

A mistake from All Blacks scrum-half Jimmy Cowan gave the Chiefs the chance to counter - Cruden and centre Richard Kahui both made darts downfield before the ball was worked to Masaga, who powered his way over.

Noakes landed another three-pointer to cut the deficit, only for Cruden to respond with two penalties of his own before the break. A fifth successful shot at goal from Cruden took his team into a handy 19-9 lead, but the loss of Leonard to a nasty hamstring injury proved to be costly for the hosts as the Highlanders took full advantage.

First scrum-half replacement Smith finished off a superb run and offload from centre Tamati Ellison for a try under the posts to give the visitors hope. Noakes' conversion cut the deficit to three.

Cruden's clearance kick was then charged down by veteran hooker Jason Rutledge, with Burleigh finishing off and Noakes once again added the extras.

The Chiefs spurned two kickable efforts at goal to go for broke and they would regret the decision as they could not breach the Highlanders stubborn defence.

The scorers:

For Chiefs:
Try: Masaga
Con: Cruden
Pens: Cruden 4

For Highlanders:
Tries: Smith, Burleigh
Cons: Noakes 2
Pens: Noakes 3

Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Tim Nanai-Williams, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (capt), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Arizona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Toby Smith, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Tawera Kerr- Barlow, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Asaeli Tikoirotuma.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Buxton Popoali'i, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Nick Crosswell, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 James Haskell, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Kurt Baker.

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Super Rugby Table
PosTeamPPts
1Sharks831
2Brumbies825
3Chiefs825
4Waratahs824
5Western Force823
6Crusaders822
7Hurricanes821
8Highlanders719
9Bulls919
10Lions916
11Blues816
12Reds816
13Melbourne Rebels816
14Stormers810
15Cheetahs99