Chiefs tops in Kiwi spectacle
The Chiefs scored a thrilling 41-27 bonus-point win against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday.
A breath-taking passage of play right on the hour summed up the encounter as a whole. The ball was kept alive for several minutes, with both teams effecting breakdown turnovers and launching sweeping counter-attacks with only one objective in mind: to score a try.
It would be Tim Nanai-Williams who achieved this objective, and after finally dotting the ball down, the Chiefs centre took a moment to gather his breath. It was that taxing, and that brilliant.
The Highlanders had done exceptionally well to finish the first half within two points of the Chiefs. The momentum shifted in the second stanza, with their forwards beginning to dominate the collisions and breakdowns. As the game approached the 60-minute mark, they held an important 27-21 lead.
But it was after Nanai-Williams' second try, the product of a creative and exhaustive period of play, that the Chiefs took control. The Highlanders began to grow desperate, and Chiefs' goal-kicker Gareth Anscombe, who had also contributed strongly in general play, maintained his excellent strike rate to increase the visitors' advantage.
A bonus-point win is massive on the road, but both teams will know that the quality of defence in this fixture was substandard. It was a thrilling spectacle by all accounts, but there's much to do if either team is going to strive towards a balanced approach and challenge for the title.
Highlanders – Tries: Ben Smith, Hosea Gear, Kade Poki. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (3). Penalties: Sopoaga (2).
Chiefs – Tries: Tim Nanai-Williams (2), Patrick Osborne, Asaeli Tikoirotuma. Conversions: Gareth Anscombe (3). Penalties: Anscombe (5).
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear (c), 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Buxton Popoalii.
Chiefs – 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Charlie Ngatai, 22 Lelia Masaga.