Phil Burleigh the one the Chiefs let slip away

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:00 27/02/2012
Phil Burleigh
Getty Images

MAKING THEM PAY: Phil Burleigh of the Highlanders in action against the Chiefs.

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Two weeks ago Phil Burleigh literally climbed off the Chiefs' bus at Queenstown and on to the Highlanders' one.

On Saturday night he instantly became the hero for the latter when he scored the match-winning try against the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium off a charge-down by replacement hooker Jason Rutledge.

Burleigh, the Christchurch-born Bay of Plenty second five-eighth, was whistled up by the Highlanders out of the Chiefs' wider training group to replace the injured Kendrick Lynn when a series of midfield injuries hit the southerners.

"I never thought I'd be in that situation, I guess, especially two weeks ago and the boys gave me a bit of grief but in the end it's been a pretty easy transition," Burleigh said.

"The boys have helped me out a lot and it's getting better each week."

Not only has Burleigh had to suddenly fit into a completely new pattern of play and team structure after training for most of the pre-season period with the Chiefs, but in the space of two days he had to strike up a combination with centre Tamati Ellison who hopped off a plane from Japan only last Thursday.

"We talked quite a bit, I guess, and went through all the plays together, had a run with him yesterday and I guess the combination will work better each week.

"I think he did a pretty good job," Burleigh said. "He seemed to get the hang of it pretty quick."

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said one of the reasons for him starting Chris Noakes at first-five was the combination he already had with Burleigh at the Steamers and Burleigh later praised Noakes' influence on his play.

"Noakesy is a bloody good player.

"He runs the cutter pretty well and is pretty easy to work with."

Burleigh admitted to a few advantages for him in the game, having trained with the Chiefs for a number of weeks.

"They may have mixed it up a wee bit but I could read a couple of things they were doing and that gave me an advantage on D."

He also admitted to struggling for match fitness in the latter stages of the match and said it had been a bit of a battle to get in position to score the winning try.

The message from Joseph at halftime had been to reduce the amount of off-loading on attack, keep the ball in hand and work the Chiefs' forwards more before using the backs and it had worked.

Burleigh said it had been hard to see at least four of his good mates from the Chiefs leave the field with what looked like serious injuries.

evan.pegden@waikatotimes.co.nz

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