The Chiefs secured their place at the top of the Super Rugby standings with a hard-fought 27-21 victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin.
This was tough and the toughness made for errors. The Highlanders had the added burden of desperation and their eagerness at times became overeagerness and that added to the error rate.
An example of this was Adam Thomson who had brilliant moments, spoilt by overeager errors, including three penalties.
Aaron Smith, so brilliant against the battered Irish last week, seemed, on the other hand, stage-struck and had a sloppy game that cost his team dearly. Such a star last week, possibly the worst player on the field this week. And it was not all his forwards' fault.
It was cold but then the ground is enclosed and the match was anything but cold. The contest was heated - on one occasion overheated when there was brawl involving several, starting when Sonny Bill Williams felled Nick Crosswell in violent fashion, provoking reaction from Jarrad Hoeata and involving several others. Williams lost self-control, jabbering at the referee and threatening the opposition.
The upshot was a penalty against Williams for an armless tackle. It was certainly something that deserved more, as did the armless 'tackle' by Ben Tameifuna. Perhaps the extended use of the TMO will assist the referee in such matters. Perhaps, too, the extended use of the TMO would help in cases like Andrew Hore's try.
The eager Highlanders started off with great intent. They kicked off and Thomson won the ball but Tawera Kerr-Barlow won a turnover off slow-moving Aaron Smith and gave to Sonny Bill Williams. Toby Smith charged and Liam Messam sent Sonny Bill Williams through a gap. On he ran, picking his moment to pass to Tim Nanai-Williams. Ankle-tapped the wing stretched out to score near the posts. 7-0 after three minutes.
Twice more Thomson poached Chiefs' ball and when Kerr-Barlow was penalised at a tackle, Chris Noakes goaled from a slap in front. 7-3 after 8 minutes.
But Jamie McIntosh was penalised at the first scrum of the match and Aaron Cruden made it 11-3 after 11 minutes.
The Highlanders had a five-metre line-out, courtesy of a penalty, and mauled. That went down and they bashed but Aaron Smith neglected the ball at the back of a tackle/ruck, the referee called 'Ball's out' and the Chiefs swarmed to get possession and relief.
The referee called 'Ball's out' in the rest of the match which may have increased the speed of the match.
Hosea Gear counterattacked and the Highlanders bashed again. Mahonri Schwalger was penalised at a tackle/ruck and again Noakes had an easy kick to goal. 10-6 after 18 minutes.
The Chiefs came desperately close when Sonny Bill Williams and Robbie Robinson set them attacking but Gear smashed Asaeli Tikoirotuma into touch at the right cornerflag.
Another Gear run put his side on the attack, Kane Thompson was penalised for an early, high tackle on Ben Smith and Noakes goaled. 10-9 after 29 minutes. That's as close as the Highlanders came to winning the match.
A turnover set the Chiefs on a quick attack. Noakes had a kick charged by massive Tameifuna. Kerr-Barlow, Sonny Bill Williams and Brodie Retallick gave lively Robinson an easy run-in for a try. 15-9 after 38 minutes.
The Highlanders played on after the siren but Aaron Smith was again dispossessed at the back of a tackle/ruck, Tikoirotuma had a strong run and Thomson was penalised at a tackle/ruck. 18-9 at half-time.
Right at the kick-off the Highlanders cracked. Thomson failed to field the kick-off and Nasi Manu was penalised at a tackle/ruck. 21-9 after 41 minutes.
The unseemly brawl happened after this.
The Highlanders had an attacking line-out after Sonny Bill Williams was penalised. The Chiefs slapped the throw back and the Highlanders were battering at the line till the TMO advised that try had been scored. 21-14 after 21-14, though it seemed that Andrew Hore had picked up the ball in a ruck short of the line..
The Chiefs had some promising attack after this - Robinson's charge and chip, a break by Cruden and fast phases that ended when Toby Smith was driven to the line. The TMO found it inconclusive and the Chiefs had to make the long, disappointed trek back from their own half for a five-metre scrum at which they were free-kicked.
Two penalties by Cruden, one against Thomson and the other against Aaron Smith, took the visitors to 27-14 after 67 minutes.
Cruden tried a chip near his own 22 and the Highlanders attacked with a will till Gear forced his way over from close quarters. 27-21 with 5 minutes to go. The Chiefs went through 16 urgent phases till, three and a half minutes into injury time, they turned the ball over and Brendon Leonard kicked out.
Man of the Match: There were wonderful efforts by several players. Two who were effective and without blemish in all they did were Hosea Gear of the Highlanders and our choice of Man of the Match Liam Messam who by the nature of his position was more active.
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Hore, Gear
Pens: Noakes 3
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Nanai-Williams, Robinson
Pens: Cruden 5
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Nick Crosswell, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (captain).
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Chris King, 18 Josh Bekhuis, 19 James Haskell, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Buxton Popoali'i.
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Kane Thompson, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Lelia Masaga.
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
By Paul Dobson