Highlanders down Chiefs in Dunedin thriller

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Saturday, July 16, 2016    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

It was enough to knock the Chiefs off the top of the table and give the New Zealand Conference win to the Hurricanes after their earlier bonus point win over the Crusaders in Christchurch.


A crucial ruling with seven minutes remaining created the winning chance for the Highlanders. After first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga made a break which saw the ball knocked from centre Matt Faddes' grip as he attempted to score.
Sopoaga picked up the loose ball and scored which was awarded after a TMO consultation.

Given the fact the Highlanders had completed a round-the-world trip on Tuesday it was an impressive display of determination to turn around 5-7 down at the break.

It was another hard-hitting example of the competitiveness of the New Zealand Conference with plenty resting on the outcome.

Only six minutes had gone when Chiefs wing Tony Pulu timed his foray from his right wing into a series of pick-and-goes with perfection to find a way through the goal-line defence of the Highlanders that bigger men hadn't been able to achieve.

Kick-started into action, the Highlanders mounted some determined offense for the remainder of the half.

Wing Waisake Naholo had a try ruled out in the 22nd minute when obstruction had been ruled in the movement. Another try was denied when it wasn't clear the ball had been grounded at the foot of the goalposts.

But there was no doubt when fullback Ben Smith made a trademark break and almost scored only to be pulled down just short of the line. The ruck ball was won quickly and halfback Aaron Smith's pass was moved on quickly by flanker James Lentjes and out of nothing Naholo launched acrobatically and somehow managed to ground the ball just inside the corner flag to score an improbable try.

Only some outstanding defence denied the Highlanders more points.

A 55th minute sin-binning of flanker Tom Sanders for a driving tackle proved costly after only three minutes when Ben Smith set up another surge from within his own half and after centre Matt Faddes and Dan Pryor traded passes, Smith's incursion provided a chance which Pryor didn't miss.

However, a storming run by flanker Sam Cane took play in the 67th minute took play to the goalmouth and after more fevered play moving the ball left and right it was a long pass from Damian McKenzie, standing at first receiver to Cane that opened a path to the corner for replacement flanker Lachlan Boshier to score.

Scorers: Highlanders 25 (Waisake Naholo, Dan Pryor, Lima Sopoaga tries; Sopoaga 2 on, 2 pen) Chiefs 15 (Tony Pulu, Lachlan Boshier tries; Damian McKenzie con, pen). HT: 5-7