Impressive Chiefs edge Highlanders

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Friday, March 30, 2018    Getty Images

Stricken by injury, and stripped of many of their big name players from 2017, the Chiefs continue to impress in 2018 and have moved to the top of the New Zealand conference (albeit temporarily) with their fourth straight victory.


But the win didn’t come easy as the Highlanders surged back from 20-7 down in the second half to provide a major scare for the home side. Ultimately it was Damian McKenzie’s boot that proved the difference as both teams crossed for three tries each.

Fans were cruelly denied the much-anticipated showdown between pivots Damian McKenzie and Lima Sopoaga when the Highlanders first five-eighth was injured inside the opening ten minutes.

The Chiefs lead 6-0 after an impressive opening 20 minutes but found themselves down 6-7 down when the Highlanders made the most of their first scoring opportunity.

Pressing close to the Chiefs line, second five-eighth Rob Thompson chipped over the flat Chiefs defence and into the arms of Waisake Naholo who laid on a brilliant finish.

The first half was rounded out with an even better finish when wing Toni Pulu climbed high in the air to palm back a Damian McKenzie cross kick into the arms of Solomon Alaimalo for the halftime lead.

With Liam Messam leading the way up front, the Chiefs swung straight onto attack early in the second half and had their second try when Nathan Harris barged over from close range to make it 20-7

The Highlanders had lost their last three home games and needed something special to get back into this match.

Co-captain Ash Dixon worked his team towards the Chiefs line with a procession of straight runs off the ruck before Aaron Smith laid on a special skip pass to put Tevita Li over.

The direct running approach brought dividends shortly after when a penalty was awarded in front of the Chiefs posts. Replacement first five-eighth Fletcher Smith knocked over the penalty to close the gap to 20-15.

It looked like it was going to be the Highlanders night when a clearing kick from Damian McKenzie rebounded off the back of teammate Lachlan Boshier and into open space. The Highlanders were first to the ball and shifted the ball to Sio Tomkinson who went over for the fortuitous try and the 22-20 lead.

The Chiefs took a leaf out of the Highlanders book and worked the ball close to the Highlanders line with a succesion of one off runners. With the Highlanders defence looking ragged, the Chiefs spread the ball to left wing Sean Wainui who slid over in the corner to grab the 27-22 lead.

The Highlanders poured plenty of pressure on the Chiefs in the final five minutes but couldn’t break through as the home side held on for a classic victory.

Chiefs 27 (Solomon Alaimalo, Nathan Harris, Sean Wainui tries, Damian McKenzie 2 pen, 3 con) Highlanders 22 (Waisake Naholo, Tevita Li, Sio Tomkinson tries, Fletcher Smith 2 con, pen)
HT: 13-7