Toni Pulu scored a brace as the Chiefs romped to an important 45-22 win over the Highlanders in Suva on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The result sees the Chiefs moving ahead of the Highlanders in the New Zealand conference standings. With two rounds left in the regular season, the Chiefs find themselves better placed than their counterparts from Dunedin.
The Highlanders went into this game with one of the best defensive records in the tournament. On the day, however, they battled to live with the Chiefs’ physicality at the set pieces and in the wider channels.
The Highlanders made error after error and conceded penalty after penalty. By contrast, the Chiefs were devastatingly clinical, scoring four converted tries in the first 25 minutes.
Referee Paul Williams ran out of patience when Luke Whitelock slapped the ball down near his own line. The Chiefs added two tries in the Highlanders No 8’s absence. Pulu grabbed his second of the game in the dying seconds of the half to boost his side to a gargantuan 42-0 lead.
Teihorangi Walden scored the Highlanders’ first points of the game when he crossed the tryline in the 46th minute. The centre powered through the defence for his second try six minutes later.
The momentum was with the Highlanders when Aki Seiuli scored later in the half. While they trailed the Chiefs by 25 points at that stage, and a comeback win was unlikely, they still had an opportunity to deny their opponents a try-scoring bonus point.
Damian McKenzie slotted a penalty in the 71st minute to extend the Chiefs’ lead. The flyhalf finished the evening with a seven-from-seven goal-kicking record and a personal tally of 15 points.
The Highlanders continued to come at the Chiefs, though, and scored their fourth try through replacement flank Shannon Frizell. That capped a remarkable fightback by the Highlanders, and ensured that they denied the Chiefs a valuable bonus point.
Highlanders – Tries: Teihorangi Walden (2), Aki Seiuli, Shannon Frizell. Conversion: Lima Sopoaga.
Chiefs – Tries: Solomon Alaimalo, Toni Pulu (2), Karl Tu’inukuafe, Luke Jacobson, Sean Wainui. Conversions: Damian McKenzie (6). Penalty: Damian McKenzie.
Highlanders –15 Ben Smith (co-c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon , 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (co-c), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Alex Ainley, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Richard Buckman.
Chiefs – 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai (co-c), 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane (co-c), 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Liam Polwart, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Subs: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Mitch Karpik, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images