Cape Town - Waisake Naholo scored two tries on his comeback for the
Highlanders in a performance worthy of champions as they defeated the Chiefs
26-13 in Hamilton on Saturday.
The Highlanders headed to Hamilton having won their last
four straight over the Chiefs and that run now continues, with Naholo's brace
the cherry on top of a composed team effort.
By contrast, the Chiefs made an uncharacteristic number of
handling errors and a yellow card for Charlie Ngatai on the stroke of half-time
proved to be costly, with Naholo's first try after the break opening up a
15-point gap which the Chiefs couldn't close down.
Naholo had been out with injury since Round 1, but he looked
very sharp indeed and pumped up too, celebrating everything that went the
Ngatai's yellow card was a controversial talking point as
referee Angus Gardner took his time over a decision. Ngatai collided with a
leaping Elliot Dixon to send the Highlanders flank flipping head over heels and
fortunately not landing on his head or neck.
Saturday's loss means the Chiefs will finish Round 11 in
second place behind the Crusaders but the result matters more for the
Highlanders, who make up ground on the rest of the Kiwi franchises.
Aaron Cruden gave the Chiefs the lead after five minutes
with a penalty as the Highlanders were offside.
Usually so sharp with the ball in hand there were early
signs of concern for the Chiefs as knock-ons crept in. Lima Sopoaga was able to
level the scores after Brad Weber was caught using his boot in the ruck, making
The accuracy of the Highlanders' kicking game had to be
commended, having survived an early period of pressure from the Chiefs and
beginning to settle into the contest thanks to the control offered by the boots
of the two Smiths, Aaron and Ben, along with Sopoaga.
Sopoaga was able to land a second penalty to put the
visitors ahead, bringing up 100 points this season for the fly-half, before he
went off for a concussion test which he passed.
A mix-up then led to the game's first try, with the Chiefs
defence stopping and after the ball went to ground following a failed switch in
the Highlanders attack, before loosehead prop Dan Lienert-Brown scooped up and
showed impressive pace to sprint to the line to score.
Marty Banks, on momentarily for Sopoaga, converted to give
the Highlanders a commanding 13-3 lead.
That looked to be the end of the drama for the half until
Ngatai's yellow card following the collision with Dixon, as the Chiefs headed
into the break down to 14 men.
Sniffing a chance to capitalise the Highlanders showed
impressive patience on attack at the start of the second half, with darts from
Ben Smith and Patrick Osborne culminating with the ball going wide through the
hands of Ash Dixon and Josh Hohneck before Naholo finished in the corner.
Sopoaga couldn't convert but the Highlanders were firmly in
control up 18-3.
Ngatai returned from his stint in the bin and made an
instant impact with a line break, starting an attack that finished with James
Lowe breaking into space before delivering the final pass to Cruden as he ran
down the touchline to finish in the corner.
The flyhalf missed the conversion from out wide before the
Highlanders came back on the attack once more and displayed truly brilliant
composure close to the Chiefs line.
Phase after phase were recycled from five metres out before
spotting the overlap out wide the ball was flung from left to right to give
Naholo the space he needed to score his second try.
Matters got worse for the Chiefs with a yellow card to Maama
Vaipulu for cynical play as Sopoaga's penalty hammered home the result for the
Highlanders up 26-8.
Young Chiefs replacement wing Sam Vaka did come off the
bench to score his Super Rugby try on debut to give the home supporters
something to cheer, but the result was long gone.
The final highlight was a try-saving tackle for Anton
Lienert-Brown to bundle Naholo into touch and deny him a hat-trick, although
the All Blacks wing had already done the damage on an impressive return.
Tries: Dan Lienert-Brown, Waisake Naholo (2)
Conversion: Marty Banks
Penalties: Lima Sopoaga (3)
Tries: Aaron Cruden, Sam Vaka
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham
Substitutes: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Kane Hames, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Maama Vaipulu, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Sam Vaka
15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Matt Faddes, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Alex Ainley, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Dan Lienert-Brown
Substitutes: 16 Greg Plesants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siosiua Halanukonuka, 19 James Lentjes, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Teihorangi Walden