Chiefs slip from frustrated Highlanders' hook

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 03/03/2014
Matt Symons
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ
HARD AND STRAIGHT: Chiefs lock Matt Symons on the charge against the Highlanders in Hamilton on Saturday night.

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The Highlanders have earned themselves a week off after a solid, slightly surprising start to their 2014 Super Rugby campaign.

Backing up from an opening round 29-21 win over the Blues in Dunedin, the Highlanders did everything but beat the defending champion Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday night.

They will now take a week off before undertaking some promotional activities in Central Otago, followed by preparation for an important game against the Western Force, which has been something of a Highlanders bogey team.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said his players were disappointed at coming up short in Hamilton.

"I woke up this morning and it was pretty tough not having won that game," Joseph said.

"We created a lot of opportunities to score tries, and most of them we did. We went out there with a plan, everyone played very well but the score tells the story and we didn't win."

The Highlanders led 16-7 at halftime, thanks to a quality try to John Hardie from a well-executed lineout drive and some accurate goalkicking by Lima Sopoaga.

The Chiefs struck early when they caught Malakai Fekitoa, playing out of position on the left wing, with a blindside raid which netted Tim Nanai-Williams a try.

Leading 19-14 with 14 minutes to go, the Highlanders could have sealed a win if they had been the next to score, but instead the Chiefs grabbed the game through a Charlie Ngatai try.

"There's no real negatives out of the performance, apart from the fact that we lost," Joseph said.

"We've got a team that have shown they can create opportunities against the best team in the competition, but the learning for us is that when you get a chance to win the game, you have to take it."

Joseph is happy with the timing of the bye.

The Highlanders have only played two competition games, but they have travelled to Queenstown, a one-day return trip to Motueka, Newcastle via Sydney and Hamilton so far this season.

While the Chiefs go into their bye unbeaten, the Highlanders will be pleased with their six points.

With no serious injuries coming out of Saturday's game, the Highlanders are hoping to have Brad Thorn (rib) and Patrick Osborne (ankle) back for the March 15 game against the Force in Dunedin.

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- The Southland Times

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