Highlanders shut out Chiefs
Aaron Cruden tackled by Lima Sopoaga (Getty Images)
Dunedin - The Chiefs suffered a major blow to their hopes of defending the Super Rugby title with a 29-25 loss to the Highlanders here on Friday.
The Chiefs, champions in 2012 and 2013, scored three tries to two and led through long periods of the match, but could not shake a dogged Highlanders side determined to secure a playoffs berth.
They are fourth in the New Zealand conference and face a tough task to secure a top-six spot in the overall ladder for the chance to defend the title.
Highlanders co-captain Nasi Manu said his unfancied team showed their determination after trailing at half-time.
"We worked hard, we got a result," he said. "We've got two matches left and who knows what happens - at least we've given ourselves a chance."
After a tight opening, the game burst to life just after 10 minutes when newly-minted All Black Malakai Fekitoa broke through the Chiefs' defence to set up Patrick Osborne for the opening try.
Fekitoa, who made his international debut in the just-completed series against England, evaded two defenders, then offloaded to Ben Smith, who sent the ball to Osborne on the wing.
The Chiefs hit back immediately when Aaron Cruden's chip-kick over the defence bounced favourably for Dwayne Sweeney, allowing the wing to cross for a converted try.
Fekitoa helped the Highlanders regain the lead early in the second half when he again caught the Chiefs napping and sent Ben Smith over for the Highlanders' second try.
With 15 minutes to go, Tim Nanai-Williams gave the Chiefs hope when he came off the bench to score a try with a sneaky side-step for a five-pointer.
Prop Josh Hohneck narrowed the gap to 29-25 in the final minutes but penalties ended up deciding the game, with the Highlanders slotting five and the Chiefs managing only two.
Tries: Patrick Osborne, Ben Smith
Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (2)
Penalties: Sopoaga (4), Hayden Parker
Tries: Dwayne Sweeney, Tim Nanai-Williams, Josh Hohneck
Conversions: Aaron Cruden (2)
Penalties: Cruden, Gareth Anscombe
15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (co-captain), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Kane Hames
Substitutes: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Chris King, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Lee Allan, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh
15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Dwayne Sweeney, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Tom Marshall, 10 Aaron Cruden (captain), 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Pauliasi Manu
Substitutes: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams, 23 James Lowe