Battling Highlanders unlucky in Chiefs loss
Misfortune continues to follow the Highlanders around like an annoying younger brother.
Last night's 19-7 loss to the Chiefs in Hamilton was their fourth on the bounce and any chance this team have of making the playoffs is on life support.
Another week, another venue, and the Highlanders - who on paper are title challengers - couldn't buy a trick.
They blew three tries in the first quarter of an hour and the normally reliable boot of Colin Slade deserted him, while Gareth Anscombe had little issue with banging them over from all over Waikato Stadium.
And yet the Highlanders were very good for long passages.
Their scrum was an attacking platform, despite the loss of Tony Woodcock just before the game, with Ma'afu Fia joining Chris King in his 100th game of Super Rugby in a rejigged front row.
Elliot Dixon turned in his best ever game of rugby at this level, while John Hardie was a battering ram with ball in hand and outplayed his All Black counterpart Sam Cane. Ben Smith was a menace and Liam Coltman was blockbusting in his starting debut.
But it counted for nothing against a Chiefs team which is much greater than the sum of its parts.
For long periods of the first half, the home side were forced to defend their chalk after giving away the advantage line.
If there's a team that's better at it, then they must be some side.
The Highlanders rolled the dice in the first half and were unlucky the gamble didn't play off.
They tapped penalties, ran a barrage of runners off the ruck and generally looked to test the legs of a Chiefs team recently returned from the republic.
Dominating territory and possession, Slade's kicking was a concern from early on.
The Chiefs scored through Tim Nanai-Williams from a loose ball for a 10-nil lead.
Aseali Tikoirotuma should have been binned for knocking down a pass which looked certain to lead to a try, but referee Ben Skeen didn't miss Jarrad Hoeata's high tackle on Aaron Cruden.
Playing all the rugby, the Highlanders finally got some reward when Aaron Smith scored down the blindside from another strong blue scrum, ironically with Hoeata clearly holding Chiefs skipper Liam Messam back.
The Chiefs' defence of their own line bordered on the superhuman for much of the first half, and their counter-attack wasn't much worse.
As the second half ground on, the Chiefs wrested back control of the match and Anscombe kicked the goals that counted.
Chiefs 19 (Tim Nanai-Williams try; Gareth Anscombe 4 pen, con) Highlanders 7 (Aaron Smith try; Colin Slade con). HT: 13-7
- © Fairfax NZ News
Family counts blessings after superbug scare (graphic content)
Should there be golden point extra time in Super Rugby?Related story: (See story)