Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Chiefs grind out win

Jarrad Hoeata of the Highlanders tackles Nick Crosswell of the Chiefs during the round six Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images.
Jarrad Hoeata of the Highlanders tackles Nick Crosswell of the Chiefs during the round six Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Highlanders. Photo / Getty Images.

Chiefs 19
Highlanders 7

Another victory for the Chiefs, but not one they will want to replay too many times at their leisure.

The defending champions were made to look vulnerable at times tonight at Waikato Stadium by the Highlanders, who, remarkably, still have yet to record a win this season.

The southern men, without All Blacks loosehead prop Tony Woodcock due to a late hamstring injury, would have given future Chiefs' opponents some clues, too. It might not make good watching for the Chiefs, but this is one DVD the Blues, their opposition in Mt Maunganui next weekend, will want to get their hands on.

While the Chiefs would have been weary following their trek home from South Africa - the majority got to their beds in the early hours of Monday - they were forced to feed off scraps by a visiting team determined to change things up.

The Highlanders played a game based on speed, breakdown pressure and constant harassing defence and it nearly paid off. Battling this season with three defeats from three matches, they limited the damage to one Tim Nanai-Williams try, while scoring one of their own through Aaron Smith.

When it came to turn the heat on in the second half, though, they found a Chiefs team determined to make one or two changes of their own. The home side simply denied the Highlanders the ball, and with Gareth Anscombe finding his range again after two rare misses, pulled away.

The Highlanders showed their hand early. Three times they ran penalties from their own half instead of kicking for touch. It looked ragged to start with - lock Josh Bekhuis coughing up possession in contact to gift Nanai-Williams the opening try - but it looked increasingly threatening.

Indeed, but for some desperate defence the Highlanders could have scored four tries in the first 40 minutes.

Centre Jason Emery, loose forward Jarrad Hoeata - later sinbinned for a high tackle on Aaron Cruden - and Hosea Gear, twice, all went close.

Elsewhere in the first half the Chiefs looked second best at the breakdown - a worrying trend for Dave Rennie, who had bemoaned his side's constant breakdown offending in South Africa which saw three of his players sinbinned.

Gear was a constant threat, as he was against the Hurricanes last week, and it was his presence, lurking on the blind side from an attacking scrum, which helped create the space for halfback Aaron Smith to score the opening try for the Highlanders.

It was the sternest of tests for the Chiefs, but eventually their quality saw through. So dangerous usually with the ball, this time they had to rely on their scrambling defence.
Another bonus was the reappearance of centre Richard Kahui, who replaced wing Lelia Masaga in the 49th minute after a long injury lay-off and quickly made his presence felt.

Ma'a Nonu, back for the Highlanders after two weeks out with a knee injury, steadied the midfield for the Highlanders, with fullback Ben Smith and No8 Elliott Dixon also shining.
Slade, who had an off night with the boot, kicking only one from four, was called back for an offside after an interception.

Defence reigned for the remainder of the match.

Andrew Horrell went close for the Chiefs but planted the ball just short. The Highlanders finished with a flourish, prop Chris King, celebrating 100 Super Rugby caps, almost scored against a post in the dying minutes but for more scrambling.

Chiefs 19 (Tim Nanai-Williams try; Gareth Anscombe con, 3 pens)
Highlanders 7 (Aaron Smith try; Colin Slade con)
HT: 13-7

- APNZ

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