Home team win arm-wrestle
The Chiefs maintained their dominance of the New Zealand conference with a hard-earned 19-7 win over a willing Highlanders outfit in Hamilton on Friday.
Not flawless by any means, but it was an intriguing game to watch - as both teams played at pace and with high intensity.
The visiting Highlanders dominated possession and position in the first half, the Chiefs in the second half, not that there was weather to produce such a turnaround at the Waikato Stadium on a perfect Friday night with 14 900 fans to watch the action.
There was action but not a lot of tries - just one each and each one problematic in its way. The Chiefs' try was scored by Tim Nanai-Williams after Tawera Kerr-Barlow hit the ball forward out of Josh Bekhuis's grasp. Aaron Smith scored the Highlanders' try from a five-metre scrum when Liam Messam was being held into the scrum by Jarrad Hoeata, thus creating an opening for the scrumhalf.
Tries apart, there was lots of action, especially in the first half when the Highlanders sought to run the Chiefs off their feet after their long flight back from South Africa but it seemed that they tired themselves more than they tired the home side.
The Highlanders certainly tried to speed up the game at the start, tapping penalties and taking three quick line-outs in their first four. But it was the calm Chiefs who led at half-time - 13-7 because Gareth Anscombe had kicked two penalties while Colin Slade had missed two, the first an easy kick which bounced back off an upright.
When Hosea Gear was penalised at a tackle, Anscombe opened the scoring. 3-0 after 2 minutes.
The Highlanders were on the attack when Kerr-Barlow tackled Bekhuis and knocked the ball from the tall man's grasp. Fleet-footed Nanai-Williams was on hand to snatch it up and run half the length of the field to score. 10-0 after 7 minutes. This was all against the run of play.
Slade missed two penalties and then the Highlanders nearly scored as Kade Poki scooted brilliantly down the right wing. He played inside to Elliot Dixon who was tackled at the line and popped little pass to Jason Emery who was under great pressure and lost the ball for a scrum to the Chiefs five metres from their line. They were freekicked and the Highlanders opted for a scrum. They bashed with Brad Thorn in the van and Gear was held up over the line, producing another five-metre scrum to the left of the posts. It was then that Smith broke on the side that he had put the ball in. He ran inside Kerr-Barlow through the empty space where Messam could have been expected to be and scored. 10-7 after 20 minutes.
Poki had another run but Hoeata was sin-binned for a gross high tackle on Aaron Cruden and then John Hardie was penalised at a tackle. Anscombe goaled again. 13-7 after 24 minutes.
The Chiefs much improved their match share in the latter part of the second half and actually had 38% of possession.
There was loud cheering in the second half when Richard Kahui came on for Lelia Masaga. Nanai-Williams moved to the wing and Kahui came in at centre.
There were just two scores in the half, despite much to-ing and fro-ing. Anscombe, after missing two penalty kicks at goal which was most unusual, goaled one for offside and one against Bronson Murray at a scrum. Murray had come on when sturdy Ma'afu Fia limped off. Fia had been brought into the team when Tony Woodcock pulled out. The second penalty made it 19-7 with 11 minutes to play.
When Messam, playing his 100th match, footed free Poki saved brilliantly and turned defence into attack. When the Highlanders countered off a Kerr-Barlow knock, Chris King, playing his 100th match, was close at the posts,
Try as they might, the Highlanders could not get a bonus-point score.
Man of the Match: Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who outplayed Aaron Smith with his quick passing from the ground, his decision-making and his aggressive tackling. He is out Man of the Match.
For the Chiefs:
Pens: Anscombe 4
For the Highlanders:
Yellow card: Jarrad Hoeata (Highlanders, 23 - foul play, high tackle)
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Andrew Horrell, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Nick Crosswell, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshal, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Romana Graham/Fritz Lee, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 August Pulu, 21 Charlie Ngatai, 22 Richard Kahui.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn (captain), 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ma'afu Fia.
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Joe Wheeler, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Frae Wilson, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Phil Burleigh.
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand