Marty Banks kicked a last-minute penalty to guide the Highlanders to a 20-17 win over the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Yet another match decided by a controversial TMO decision. James Lowe and the Chiefs have every right to feel aggrieved after Chris Wratt's decision to penalise him for a perfectly legal tackle on Malikai Fekitoa in the closing stages of the match.
The Highlanders used the opportunity to move into Chiefs territory and secure the match-winning penalty that Banks slotted from 40m with unerring accuracy.
In truth, the Chiefs hadn't done enough to win the match. Gone was the fluid attacking play from the landslide victory over the Crusaders, replaced by unforced handling errors and misplaced passes.
They had their dominant pack to thank for getting them out of the hole they found themselves in at half-time, when they trailed 14-3. Aaron Cruden once again struggled off the kicking tee, missing three of his six attempts, which would prove costly in the end.
The Highlanders spent much of the first stanza in their half and without the ball, but somehow managed to go into the shed with a solid lead, courtesy of three Lima Sopoaga penalties and a beautifully worked Patrick Osborne try.
The expected response from the home side came early in the second half, and after Highlanders lock Joe Wheeler was sent to the bin for cynical play in the red zone, the Chiefs made their move.
Ross Geldenhuys, on in place of the injured Ma'afu Fia, struggled in a receding scrum and the Chiefs were rewarded with two penalty tries.
With the score at 17-14, the Chiefs missed two crucial kicks at goal. Banks made no error with his attempt to level things up in the 77th minute, before the controversial ending handed the Chiefs their first defeat of the season.
Chiefs – Tries: Penalty try (2). Conversions: Aaron Cruden (2). Penalty: Aaron Cruden.
Highlanders – Try: Patrick Osborne. Penalties: Lima Sopoaga (3), Marty Banks (2).
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Liam Messam (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Johan Bardoul, 5 Michael Fitzgerald, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Michael Leitch/Maama Vaipulu, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Andrew Horrell.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malikai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 Elliot Dixon, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Mark Reddish, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Brendon Edmonds, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Jason Emery.
Photo: Simon Watts/Getty Images