Chiefs 24 Highlanders 15

A night which began poorly for the Highlanders, with a big early deficit, and injuries to Ben Smith and Aaron Smith, finished with a bonus-point victory for a Chiefs team who probably can't believe their luck.

It was a dramatic way for the Chiefs to snap their run of six defeats at the hands of their southern rivals, and it owed much to their clinical instincts under the roof in Dunedin tonight, especially those of professional pick pocket James Lowe, who first pounced to intercept an Aaron Smith pass and then stole one away from Waisake Naholo for two converted tries against the run of play with barely 20 minutes on the clock.

Hooker Hika Elliot sneaked away down the blindside for a try from a nifty lineout move after the break and the Highlanders, who could manage only penalty goals from Lima Sopoaga, were staring down the barrel.

This was a precious victory for the Chiefs, a team who under Dave Rennie are so hard to crack and yet are one who haven't been able to beat the Highlanders in three years. They defended brilliantly, no doubt, but apart from that they didn't need to do anything special apart from capitalise on the Highlanders' mistakes.


Aaron Smith, who left the field in the second half with what looked like a hand injury, will be disappointed to have thrown the pass which gifted wing Lowe his first try, and former Crusaders player Lowe was at it again when doing the same to fellow All Black Naholo.

All Blacks fullback Ben Smith left the field after 28 minutes with a suspected concussion or whiplash after a mid-air collision with counterpart Damian McKenzie, an injury which Highlanders coach Tony Brown, and his All Blacks counterpart Steve Hansen, will both hope is minor, so important is Smith to both teams. Without their regular No15 the Highlanders lacked direction and the Chiefs took advantage.

In between times Sopoaga missed a penalty from near in front, a mistake which suggested it just wasn't going to be the home team's night.

There was probably more intensity in this second match of the new competition than the first one between the Blues and Rebels in Melbourne, although it perhaps didn't feature the quality shown by Tana Umaga's men.

Both Rennie's team and the Highlanders will be better for it, but the southerners will feel that they can't play this poorly again. Their next fixtures - against the Crusaders, Blues and Hurricanes, suggest they can't afford to.

Lowe was probably the standout player on the park, but credit too has to go to the Chiefs' defence. They won the recent Brisbane Global 10s tournament with a deep commitment built around Liam Messam's leadership following the passing of former All Black Sione Lauaki, and that has continued.

Their upcoming match against the Blues in Hamilton on Friday night will be highly anticipated.

Chiefs 24 (James Lowe 2, Hika Elliot tries; Aaron Cruden 3 cons, pen)
Highlanders 15 (Lima Sopoaga 5 pens)
Halftime: 14-9