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Chiefs look like champs again

Fri, 22 Feb 2013 08:14
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Entertaining ding-dong battle in Dunedin
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The Chiefs started the defence of their Super Rugby crown with an impressive bonus-point win (41-27) over the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday.

What a spectacular match! Don't be surprised if at the end of the Super Rugby season it is voted the best match of the competition. Last week we had two Australian derbies. This was a New Zealand derby. You could have thought that they were different games, that the New Zealand derby was played to different laws.

It just goes to show that the laws cannot alone make the game. The game is made in the souls of skilled men. Mind you the quick ball at the tackle did much to enhance the life and quality of the match. There was no messing around in this match.

It was not just the seven tries but everything that went with the tries. When Tim Nanai-Williams scored his second try the ball had been in non-stop play for three minutes.

The Chiefs had just scored and the Highlanders kicked off. The possession went from team to team - Chiefs then Highlanders then Chiefs then Highlanders then Chiefs then  Highlanders then Chiefs then try in a helter-skelter of activity, and after he had run 63 metres to score the try Nanai-Williams sank to the turf in exhaustion. It was that sort of match played by everybody who got onto the field.

The game was closer than the score suggests for at one side it seemed that momentum was with the Highlanders as they went to 27-21 ahead with 24 minutes to play. Then the Chiefs were just that bit better in taking chances and scored two tries to win and do so with a bonus point.

The match was the first of the season in Dunedin's closed Forsyth-Barr Stadium with some 18 000 spectators, which the New Zealanders regard as a great crowd, with the partying scarfies in the Zoo to add to the jollity.

The referees were there in bright pink with some white bits, the colours of the sponsors of New Zealand referees. Trim Gareth Anscombe, playing fullback for his new team, kicked off and both sides ran for over a minute before a knock-on produced a scrummage.

The Highlanders creaked a bit at the scrums but it was the Chiefs who were penalised at three scrums in the first half. The Highlanders battled to get their line-outs right and lost four of them in the match, and yet they had the better of the first part of the match in terms of possession and territory.

The first penalty of the match, against  Lima Sopoaga at a tackle, produced a penalty goal for Anscombe whose  kicking on the night was near impeccable in a stadium regarded as a hoodoo venue for kickers. 3-0 after 4 minutes.

Both sides went on running with the ball and the Highlanders' phases got them on the attack with slick passes. It was a miracle catch that gave them their try. Josh Bekhuis had gone closer and the Sopoaga, always keen to run, burst towards the line. Tackled he flicked a low pass at Ben Smith's shins. Somehow the fullback snapped up the ball and forced his way through defenders to score at the posts. It was a miracle of a try, and the home side led 7-3 after 12 minutes.

The Chiefs had a line-out on their right. They won the ball and the Highlanders' defence went higgledy-piggledy. Nanai-Williams ran straight through and on past Ma'a Nonu and then, confronted by Ben Smith, he swerved past the fullback who did not come even close to the speedster playing outside centre for only the second time in his life. Nanai-Williams scored and Anscombe converted. 10-7 to the Chiefs after 16 minutes.

After Nonu was penalised for a high tackle Anscombe goaled a second penalty and the Chiefs would have scored as they raced down the field after a run by Patrick Osborne but Sam Cane slowed it down and, ignoring two speedsters outside him, turned inside. But Bekhuis was penalised and Anscombe made it 16-7 after 24 minutes. The champions were in charge.

Then, just before half-time the Highlanders went wide right from a line-out on their left and then wide left where captain Hosea Gear beat four defenders with a step, acceleration, and hand-off and more acceleration. It was brilliant and the half-time score was just 16-14 to the Chiefs.

The Highlanders started the second half on the attack with Nonu, Sopoaga and Ma'afu Fia close. Aaron Cruden was penalised at a tackle and Sopoaga gave the home side the lead at 17-16 after 43 minutes.

The lead lasted only a few minutes as the Chiefs attacked in phases that got them closer and closer to the line - Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Cane and Ben Afeaki with glue on his fingers. They went left where Anscombe gave Fijian Osborne a brilliant pressure pass and the wing dived over in the right corner. 21-17 to the Chiefs after 46 minutes.

That lead also had but a short lease. Kerr-Barlow knocked on in the Highlanders half. Gear got the ball and immediately passed it to his right. The Highlanders went speeding away on the counterattack and Kade Poki got a pass just inside the Chiefs half. He handed off Nanai-Williams in no uncertain terms and raced away, chased by Chiefs, to score close in. 24-21 to the Highlanders after 49 minutes.,

That became 27-21 after 56 minutes when Cane was penalised at a tackle.

The Chiefs advanced with phases. Liam Messam had a burst and then it seemed the Highlanders ran out of defenders as wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma skipped through to score at the posts. 28-27 with 19 minutes to play.

From now on the Chiefs went whooping further ahead, much of it courtesy of Highlander errors.

It was a knock-on by John Hardie  that gave the ball to Nanai-Williams for his exhausting try down the left. 35-27 with 15 minutes to play.
 
 The Highlanders were penalised and Liam Coltman played within 10 metres. The extra 10 metres put the kick just in Anscombe's range. 28-27 with 11 minutes to play. Then Tanerau Latimer broke out of defence and kicked ahead. Coltman tackled him late which produced a penalty way down the field. 41-27 with 7 minutes to play.
 
 It was a match that flashed by all to quickly.
 
 Man of the Match: Lots and lots of players deserved  such an accolade but perhaps the two fullbacks more than most - Ben Smith with his eye for attack and our choice of Man of the Match, Gareth Anscombe, who attacked with great skill to produce a try, tackled Hosea Gear to prevent a try and kicked with such efficiency. He is our Man of the Match.
 
The scorers:

For the Highlanders:
Tries:
B Smith, Gear, Poki
Cons: Sopoaga 3
Pens: Sopoaga 2

For the Chiefs:
Tries:
Nanai-Williams 2, Osborne, Tikoirotuma
Cons: Anscombe 3
Pens: Anscombe 5

Teams:

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear (captain), 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Buxton Popoali'i.

Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Toby Smith, 17 Ben Tameifuna, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Charlie Ngatai, 22 Lelia Masaga.

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

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