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Gutsy Highlanders snatch late win against Chiefs

Date

Liam Napier

CHIEFS 19 HIGHLANDERS 23

Sonny Bill Williams was his usual menacing self for the Chiefs.

Sonny Bill Williams was his usual menacing self for the Chiefs. Photo: Getty Images

It was meant to be the launch of a new era for the Chiefs in Hamilton, but instead the Highlanders staged a gutsy comeback to win 23-19.

MATCH STATS

After leading 19-9, the loss of three players to injury shocked Dave Rennie's new-look Chiefs, allowing the injury-decimated Highlanders to snatch a major first-up upset against most predictions.

After last year's mass exodus of senior soldiers the Chiefs appeared to have come together perfectly, despite the influx of 13 fresh faces.

But late strikes by lively New Zealand Maori halfback Aaron Smith and a charge-down by replacement hooker Jason Rutledge, which Phil Burleigh completed, turned this game on its head. The Chiefs were left star-struck, pondering how they let this slip after being in such a commanding position.

The pain of defeat was compounded by severe post-match player welfare concerns for Rennie. The losses of promising prop Ben Afeaki, who cracked his forearm just eight minutes into the season, weakened the already thin front-row stocks. The serious hamstring injury to former All Blacks halfback Brendon Leonard and a knee complaint to try scorer Lelia Masaga added to the toll and means depth will be immediately tested.

For the most part, this was a scrappy, error-riddled affair and, at times, it resembled sevens rugby with hot-potato passing catching on faster than try-time celebrations.

Jamie Joseph's spirited Highlanders, after losing all three preseason fixtures, fielded six new faces in their starting line-up, five in the backs alone, and it showed in the first-half.

From the base, Jimmy Cowan's delivery was laboured and outside him it became disjointed. It was no surprise when New Zealand Maori halfback Smith replaced Cowan seven minutes into the second spell. The All Blacks No.9 did not gel with Bay of Plenty pivot Chris Noakes, who kicked accurately.

It was Smith's vital five-pointer that sparked the visitor's shock comeback, but for much of the match, the Southerners lacked cohesion and a backline leader to convert the strong pick-and-drive graft of their hard-working forwards who often controlled the tempo. All Blacks flanker Adam Thomson led from the front in that regard, getting through a power of work at the breakdown and lineout.

Other than one-test All Black Tamati Ellison, who only arrived from Japan on Thursday night, no-one made in-roads for the Highlanders backs. The classy Ben Smith and powerful Hosea Gear went without quality ball.

But Joseph's half-time speech hit the spot.   

The Chiefs much-hyped midfield of Sonny Bill Williams and Richard Kahui displayed glimpses of class. Williams, other than two handling errors, was his usual menacing presence. He complimented unstoppable offloading with a high work-rate on his debut for the Chiefs.

It was easy to see why Rennie worked tirelessly to recruit All Blacks playmaker Aaron Cruden, though it was his kick Rutledge charged.  Not only did the Manawatu star kick 14 points, he directed traffic and made crucial cover defending tackles.

Cowan gift-wrapped the Chiefs' only try with a bungled no-look pass leading to a breakout which Masaga nailed after strong bursts from Williams and Kahui.

But the Highlanders hung tough, displaying the fighting qualities that they were renowned for last season.

On this evidence they will be a competitive unit in 2012.

HIGHLANDERS 23 (Phil Burleigh, Aaron Smith tries Chris Noakes 2 cons 3 pens) bt CHIEFS 19 (Lelia Masaga try Aaron Cruden con 4 pens) at Waikato Stadium. Referee: Jonathan White.

Fairfax NZ

Super Rugby 2015

Round 1
Fri, 13 FebTimes shown AEDT
CRU 10 vs REB 20 Report Stats
BRU 47 vs RED 3 Stats
Sat, 14 FebTimes shown AEDT
LIO 8 vs HUR 22 Stats
BLU 18 vs CHF 23 Report Stats
Sun, 15 FebTimes shown AEDT
SHA 29 vs CHT 35 Stats
BUL 17 vs STO 29 Stats
WAR 13 vs FOR 25 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Fri, 20 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHF 19 vs BRU 17 Stats
REB 28 vs WAR 38 Stats
Sat, 21 FebTimes shown AEDT
BUL 13 vs HUR 17 Stats
HIG 20 vs CRU 26 Stats
RED 18 vs FOR 6 Stats
Sun, 22 FebTimes shown AEDT
STO 27 vs BLU 16 Stats
SHA 29 vs LIO 12 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Fri, 27 FebTimes shown AEDT
HIG 20 vs RED 13 Stats
FOR 13 vs HUR 42 Stats
Sat, 28 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHT 25 vs BLU 24 Stats
CHF 40 vs CRU 16 Stats
REB 15 vs BRU 20 Stats
Sun, 01 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 43 vs SHA 35 Stats
LIO 19 vs STO 22 Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF vs HIG 17:35WS
BRU vs FOR 19:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
BLU vs LIO 17:35QBE Stadium
RED vs WAR 19:40SS
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHT vs BUL 02:05FSS
STO vs SHA 04:10DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR vs BLU 17:35FMG Stadium
FOR vs REB 22:00nib Stadium
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU vs LIO 14:30AMI
HIG vs WAR 17:35FBS
RED vs BRU 19:40SS
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
STO vs CHF 00:00DHL Newlands
CHT vs SHA 02:05FSS
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
HIG vs HUR 17:35FBS
REB vs LIO 19:40AAMI
Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU vs CHT 17:35AMI
Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL vs FOR 02:05Loftus Versfeld
SHA vs CHF 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
WAR vs BRU 16:05AS
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR vs REB 17:35WS
RED vs LIO 20:00SS
Sat, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF vs CHT 14:30WS
HIG vs STO 17:35FBS
WAR vs BLU 19:40AS
Sun, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
SHA vs FOR 02:05Growthpoint Kings Park
BUL vs CRU 04:10Loftus Versfeld
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
HUR vs STO 18:35WS
REB vs RED 20:40AAMI
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
CHF vs BLU 18:35WS
BRU vs CHT 20:40GIO Stadium
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEDT
SHA vs CRU 01:00Growthpoint Kings Park
LIO vs BUL 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BLU vs BRU 18:35EP
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU vs HIG 18:35AMI
WAR vs STO 20:40AS
FOR vs CHT 22:45nib Stadium
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
BUL vs RED 00:00Loftus Versfeld
LIO vs SHA 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
View All Fixtures
Round 10
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU vs CHF 18:35AMI
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
HUR vs WAR 15:30WS
HIG vs BLU 18:35FBS
BRU vs REB 20:40GIO Stadium
FOR vs STO 22:45nib Stadium
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
SHA vs BUL 02:05Growthpoint Kings Park
CHT vs RED 04:10FSS
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CHF vs FOR 18:35WS
BRU vs HIG 20:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU vs BLU 18:35AMI
WAR vs REB 20:40ANZ
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO vs CHT 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
STO vs BUL 04:10DHL Newlands
RED vs HUR 17:05SS
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
HIG vs SHA 18:35FBS
BRU vs WAR 20:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU vs FOR 16:30EP
HUR vs CRU 18:35WS
REB vs CHF 20:40AAMI
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT vs STO 02:05FSS
BUL vs LIO 04:10Loftus Versfeld
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU vs RED 18:35AMI
REB vs BLU 20:40AAMI
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR vs SHA 18:35WS
FOR vs WAR 20:40nib Stadium
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
LIO vs HIG 00:00Emirates Airlines Park
STO vs BRU 02:05DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 14
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU vs BUL 18:35EP
RED vs REB 20:40SS
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR vs CHF 18:35WS
WAR vs SHA 20:40AS
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
LIO vs BRU 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
CHT vs HIG 04:10FSS
View All Fixtures
Round 15
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
CHF vs BUL 18:35Rotorua International Stadium
RED vs SHA 20:40SS
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU vs HUR 18:35Emirates Airlines Park
WAR vs CRU 20:40ANZ
FOR vs HIG 22:45nib Stadium
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT vs LIO 02:05FSS
STO vs REB 04:10DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU vs HUR 18:35Trafalgar Park
BRU vs BUL 20:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
SHA vs REB 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
HIG vs CHF 18:35Rugby Park
FOR vs RED 20:40nib Stadium
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
STO vs CHT 02:05DHL Newlands
LIO vs WAR 04:10Emirates Airlines Park
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
HUR vs HIG 18:35McLean Park
FOR vs BRU 22:00nib Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
REB vs BUL 16:30AAMI
BLU vs CRU 18:35EP
RED vs CHF 20:40SS
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
CHT vs WAR 00:00FSS
STO vs LIO 02:05DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
BLU vs HIG 18:35EP
REB vs FOR 20:40AAMI
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
BRU vs CRU 16:30GIO Stadium
CHF vs HUR 18:35Yarrow Stadium
WAR vs RED 20:40AS
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
BUL vs CHT 02:05Loftus Versfeld
SHA vs STO 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
View All Fixtures
Round 19
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
View All Fixtures
Round 20
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
View All Fixtures
Round 21
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
View All Fixtures
Super Rugby 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Brumbies 3 2 1 0 47 10
Hurricanes 3 3 0 0 47 13
Stormers 3 3 0 0 26 12
Cheetahs 2 2 0 0 7 9
Chiefs 3 3 0 0 31 13
Rebels 3 1 2 0 -5 6
Highlanders 2 1 1 0 1 5
Sharks 3 1 2 0 3 6
View all
 
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