Highlanders 27 Chiefs 41
Jarrad Hoeata of the Highlanders looks to pass. Photo: Getty Images
The Chiefs began their Super Rugby title defence in winning fashion on Friday night when they outlasted the Highlanders 41-27 in a see-sawing match of breathless, non-stop action in Dunedin.
The visitors also left with a bonus point, two of their four tries coming via the twinkle toes of novice centre Tim Nanai-Williams.
Ben Afeaki of the Chiefs makes a break. Photo: Getty Images
Usually a winger or fullback, Nanai-Williams was inserted into the midfield as an injury replacement and he showed pace and a goosestep to produce two solo, long-range touchdowns.
Fullback Gareth Anscombe, off-loaded by the Blues last season, added 21 points from the boot, including two late penalties that pushed the Chiefs clear.
The Highlanders were still well in contention going into final quarter when down 28-27.
But Nanai-Williams' second try with 12 minutes to go - after a long, unbroken passage of play that swept up and down the field and back again - finally swung the contest the Chiefs' way.
The Highlanders were without skipper Andrew Hore, still serving a suspension from the end-of-year All Blacks tour, and former Test lock Brad Thorn, out with a calf strain.
But the home side played their part in a highly entertaining contest with three tries of their own and they pressed hard till the end for their own bonus point.
The match opened with two superb tries.
The Highlanders counter-attacked from deep in their own half and then turned down an easy penalty attempt, instead moving the ball to fullback Ben Smith, who finished through heavy traffic.
The Chiefs hit back from a scrum move on their own 40-metre line, Nanai-Williams going through a big gap and then rounding Smith to dot down.
Anscombe landed the conversion and also three penalties and, with a 16-7 lead, the Chiefs appeared to be in command.
But they conceded a converted try just out from halftime, as stand-in Highlanders captain Hosea Gear went past four defenders on his wing to score.
The match continued to swing back and forth early in the second half, with Highlanders winger Kade Poki scoring in between tries for the Chiefs by wingers Patrick Osborne, on debut, and Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
CHIEFS 41 (Tim Nanai-Williams 2, Patrick Osborne, Aseli Tikoirotuma tries Gareth Anscombe 3 cons 5 pens) bt HIGHLANDERS 27 (Hosea Gear, Kade Poki, Ben Smith tries Lima Sopoaga 3 cons 2 pens) at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Referee: Steve R. Walsh.