The Highlanders came back from a 24-point deficit to hand the Chiefs a 33-31 defeat in a thrilling encounter in Hamilton on Sunday. DYLAN JACK reports.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Chiefs as they suffered a club record-equalling sixth straight defeat in the most spectacular fashion. After opening up a 24-point lead in the first half and going into the half-time break 19 points ahead, Warren Gatland’s side capitulated in the final 20 minutes of the contest, conceding four tries without reply.
Making the loss even tougher for the Chiefs was that they produced comfortably their most effective display on attack. Coming into the match, the Chiefs had been heavily criticised for not making the most of their opportunities, despite averaging the most amount of time in possession through the tournament. However, they sent a timely reminder of their threat with ball-in-hand with two quickfire tries through Lachlan Boshier and Anton Leinert-Brown before hooker Bradley Slater scored a brace from two mauls.
For the Highlanders, it was very much a smash-and-grab victory although they deserve plenty of credit for the way that they came back in the second half. The turning point in the match when Damian McKenzie had a try correctly disallowed after the TMO spotted an accidental offside earlier in the move.
From there, it was one-way traffic as halfback pair Mitch Hunt and Aaron Smith both scored wonderfully worked tries. Substitute back Jona Nareki then set up a grandstand finish after catching the Chiefs defence napping, bursting through a gap to score and bring his side to within five points with five minutes to go.
It looked as though the Chiefs would hold out when Boshier won a turnover penalty in his own 22, but the Highlanders were handed a lifeline when the Chiefs conceded a penalty from the ensuing lineout. From there, the Highlanders went for the touchline and sucked the Chiefs defenders in with a massive driving maul, before Aaron Smith smartly got the ball out and put Sio Tomkinson in for the winning try after the hooter.
Chiefs – Tries: Lachlan Boshier, Anton Leinert-Brown, Bradley Slater (2). Conversions: McKenzie. (4). Penalty: McKenzie.
Highlanders – Tries: Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith, Jonah Nareki, Sio Tomkinson. Conversions: Mitch Hunt (4).
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Kaleb Trask, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Bradley Slater, 1 Aidan Ross.
Subs: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Reuben O’Neill, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Quinn Tupaea.
Highlanders – 15 Michael Collins, 14 Josh McKay, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Scott Gregory, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7 Shannon Frizell, 6 Dillon Hunt, 5 Jack Whetton, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Ayden Johnstone
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ethan de Groot, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Jesse Parete, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Jona Nareki.
Photo: Getty Images