Chiefs make winning start to title defence
The Chiefs began the defence of their Super Rugby crown with a 41-27 win over the Highlanders, who have lost No 8 Nasi Manu to a serious leg injury after in a ragged game in Dunedin last night.
Tim Nanai-Williams went into the game with a stomach illness but ended up making the Highlanders sick with two tries, while 21 points from the boot of Gareth Anscombe were more than enough to dent a disjointed challenge from the Highlanders.
"It was fairly tight . . . the Nanai-Williams try was probably one we should have scored and then we found ourselves under our posts," Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie paid credit to a spirited effort from his team, with a number of players operating out of position.
"I thought the effort was outstanding. We've got pretty good depth, really good spirit, so we saw that tonight when we got under pressure a few times and the boys hung in there."'
The Chiefs led by only two points at halftime, despite playing much of the rugby, and trailed by three points with half an hour to go. However, second-half tries to Patrick Osborne, Aseali Tikoirotuma and Nanai-Williams saw the defending champions take a bonus-point victory.
An outstanding breakout try to Kade Poki offered the Highlanders hope after halftime when he burst through Nanai-Williams' tackle and outpaced the defence to score arguably his best try for some time.
But when the game got loose, as it did midway through the second half, the Chiefs profited, with their dangerous runners making the most of some disorganised defence.
The Highlanders would have breathed a sigh of relief at being only two points down at halftime after struggling to get into the game. Attacking raids were rare, with Ben Smith's outstanding hands netting him a try after a quick tap from Aaron Smith and a darting run by Lima Sopoaga.
Rather than settle the home team, it merely served to stir up the Chiefs who were finding it too easy to outflank the Highlanders.
An innocuous scrum on their own 10m line saw Nanai-Williams run through a massive hole and scamper the best part of 60m, with the lack of combination between Ma'a Nonu and Phil Burleigh painfully evident.
Good leadup work from Brayden Mitchell and John Hardie saw the ball swing back the other way for skipper Hosea Gear to score his sixth try in four games this year.
While Gear's try just before the break was welcome news for a rowdy 17,511-strong crowd in attendance at Forsyth Barr Stadium, the sight of Manu limping off with a suspected broken foot or ankle wasn't.