Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Chiefs hardly miss a beat

The Highlanders needled the Chiefs, and in particular Sonny Bill Williams, but there would be no repeating their round one success in Hamilton. Photo / Getty Images.
The Highlanders needled the Chiefs, and in particular Sonny Bill Williams, but there would be no repeating their round one success in Hamilton. Photo / Getty Images.

As promised by captain Jamie Mackintosh, the Highlanders needled the Chiefs, and in particular Sonny Bill Williams, but there would be no repeating their round one success in Hamilton.

Since that match in February, won 23-19 by the Highlanders, the gulf between the teams has widened considerably, and the Chiefs are the ones taking the high road.

The 27-21 scoreline on Friday night suggests a tight match at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, and it was, but although the Highlanders threw all the physicality they could muster at the Chiefs, they couldn't knock them off their winning stride. Dave Rennie's men are a team going places.

The Chiefs' win and the Crusaders' loss to the Hurricanes in Christchurch ensure the men in black, red and yellow will top the New Zealand conference. They are also heading towards hosting a home semifinal, but their final games against the Crusaders, at home, and Hurricanes, away, will decide that.

The Highlanders, on the other hand, are now ninth on the points table and slipping from contention. After their big defeat to the Crusaders in Christchurch before the test window break, skipper Mackintosh talked with enthusiasm about the physical presence they would bring to this match.

If anything, it happened the other way, with new All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith put under so much pressure by the Chiefs' forwards that the Highlanders' backline struggled to function. Wing Hosea Gear, who scored a late try to set up a tense finish, was the Highlanders' best back and that was because of his size and strength rather than his pace. A last-ditch tackle when dumping opposite Asaeli Tikoirotuma prevented another Chiefs' try.

Chiefs backs Aaron Cruden, Williams and former Highlander Robbie Robinson were a handful for the southerners, who failed to capitalise on their opportunities, although the big second-five was left seething after Jarrad Hoeata took umbrage to a shoulder charge on one of his teammates.

Elsewhere the results of the weekend followed the form book, with the Reds comfortably beating the Rebels 32-17 in Melbourne and the Brumbies maintaining their place at the top of the Australian conference with a 28-17 win over the Force in Perth.

The Stormers battled to subdue the Lions, who were without suspended coach John Mitchell, 27-17 in Cape Town, with the Bulls looking ominous in Pretoria when scoring six tries in beating the Cheetahs 40-24.

- APNZ

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