Peter is a sports writer at the Bay of Plenty Times

Rugby: Highlanders clinical in win over Chiefs

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Sam Cane shows off his dive passing skills in the defeat to the Highlanders on Saturday night. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Cane shows off his dive passing skills in the defeat to the Highlanders on Saturday night. Photo / Getty Images

The Chiefs seven-match unbeaten run came crashing to an end against defending champions the Highlanders at a sold-out Waikato Stadium on Saturday night.

The fired-up Highlanders refused to give the Chiefs any room to move and capitalised on a series of unforced errors.

The southern men have now won the last five contests between the two teams.

They deserved their 26-13 victory built on an unrelenting defensive effort and a set plan to give the Chiefs the ball.

On a dewy night in Hamilton, the Chiefs usual razzle-dazzle style imploded with their 16 handling errors preventing any continuity.

In the first half they managed three phases or more just three times as the immense pressure from the Highlanders swarming defence caused the errors.

The dynamic counter attacking running from Damian McKenzie and James Lowe were dramatically curtailed as clearly the team had done their homework on the Chiefs attacking threats.

No one does pre-game strategy as well as Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph.

In halfback Aaron Smith and fullback Ben Smith he has two All Blacks stars who are the best in the world in their positions and first-five Lomi Sopoaga looks deserving of a test jersey.

Charlie Ngatai was immense in midfield for the Chiefs after missing two rounds with a shoulder injury.

His ability to break the line and smart tactical kicking must have impressed the watching All Blacks hierarchy of Grant Fox, Steve Hansen and Ian Foster.

Crucially, he was yellow carded for an accidental tip tackle on the stroke of halftime in a harsh decision.

Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane admitted post-match that the last thing his team needed was a week off with a bye set for this weekend's round.

"Against a very good defensive side you have to be able to build pressure but for one reason or another the passes were not sticking," Cane said.

"But you can't take anything away from them. They showed a lot of that resolve and awesome determination that took them through to the title last year.

"We will have to be better. It is disappointing. I can't really question the effort and attitude as we fought right to the end but for numerous reasons we couldn't get anything going.

"Thanks to the crowd for showing up on a heck of an occasion but unfortunately we didn't front tonight."

Tactically the Chiefs may need to change how they play against committed defences and certainly need to play more of a patience game.

The Chiefs are first equal with the Crusaders on the New Zealand Conference and on track for a home quarter final in July.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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