Super rugby Aotearoa

Highlanders edge Chiefs in Super Rugby Aotearoa opener

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The Highlanders dramatically edged the Chiefs 28-27 in the opening match of Super Rugby Aotearoa at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.

The first match of the return of Super Rugby ended in thrilling – and bizarre – fashion when Bryn Gatland, son of Chiefs Head Coach Warren Gatland, slotted a long-range drop-goal in the final moments of the game to seal a rare win for the home team.

A minute earlier, Damian McKenzie – who had a good day from the tee, kicking 17 points – knocked over a 78th-minute field goal to put his side ahead in the dying moments.

But less than 60 seconds later, Gatland landed the knockout blow to the delight of the near sold-out stadium.


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Super Rugby Aotearoa Video Highlights: Highlanders versus Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

The Highlanders outscored the Chiefs three tries to two, but the accurate boot of McKenzie kept the visitors in the hunt.

The two yellow cards following some ill-discipline almost cost Aaron Mauger’s rejuvenated side.

The teams traded three early penalties as the sides came to terms with the new offside rule.

There were seven penalties inside the first quarter as the two teams came to terms with the new rules, while simultaneously shaking off the rust.

McKenzie kicked two penalties after Mitch Hunt’s 3rd-minute opener to give the Hamilton men a slender advantage.

Shaun Stevenson and Lachlan Boshier, playing his 50th Super Rugby match, both went close as the visitors took control.

Highlanders at the double with two quickfire scores from Chiefs mistakes.

The game burst into life in the 16th-minute when the hosts scored twice in four minutes through skipper Ash Dixon and Sio Tomkinson.

Dixon flopped over the whitewash after a powerful driving maul before a lost lineout; five metres out was regathered thanks to poor handling from the Chiefs.

The Chiefs turned the ball over, Rob Thompson, taking Aaron Smith’s delayed pass, danced through the defenders before offloading to his midfield partner to dot down.

Hunt could not miss from next to the poles, putting Mauger’s men 15-6.

Gatland’s charges were on the wrong side of the penalty count as well as the turnovers, possession and territory.

But the Chiefs hit back through Sean Wainui, who strolled over the chalk after some quick hands and sublime inter-passing between forwards and backs.

McKenzie added the extras before putting his team back in front after debutant Vilimoni Koroi was sin-binned for a tip-tackle.

However, Marino Mikaele Tu’u crashed over on the stroke of halftime. The No 8 collected Hunt’s inside pass, after Aaron Smith switched play from a stalled driving maul, and bulldozed over the chalk.

McKenzie reduced the deficit with his fourth penalty-goal on 47 minutes as the penalties mounted.

Penalties mount as the players struggle to adapt to new laws.

Both sets of players had issues with the new offside rule at the ruck; there were 22 penalties before the hour-mark.

Hunt kicked a long-range penalty as the Highlander’s first points after the break extended their lead to six.

The penalties kept coming. Jona Nareki took out McKenzie in the air and after review, correctly sent to the sidelines.

As the game entered the final quarter, the Chiefs, with the extra man botched a scoring opportunity. The Chiefs problems at the lineout came back to haunt them.

Instead of taking the three, Gatland’s men opted for a scrum over a lineout, inside the Landers’ 22. However, a botched scrum saw them go backwards before conceding another penalty.

Time was running out, but the Chiefs kept coming.

Another sustained period of attack ended with Shaun Stevenson being held-up over the goal-line following a 15-phase attack inside the opposition’s 22.

The Chiefs opted for another scrum, and their patience and persistence was rewarded when Anton Lienert-Brown scores in the corner.

Excellent work from Aaron Cruden and McKenzie helped put the centre away. McKenzie, however, missed an important conversion that would have put the visitors ahead.

As the clock ticked down, the game entered a stunning finish.

McKenzie thought he had won the day for his side, but Gatland replied with a winner to deny the Chiefs and dad.

Final Score: Highlanders 28 (22) Chiefs 27 (16)

Scorers

Highlanders
Tries – A. Dixon, Tomkinson, Mikaele Tu’u,
Pen – Hunt (2)
Con – Hunt (2)
Drop – Gatland
Cards – Koroi (Yellow, 32′), Nareki (Yellow, 61′)

Chiefs
Tries – Wainui, Lienert-Brown
Pen – McKenzie (4)
Con – McKenzie
Drop – McKenzie
Cards –

Match Officials
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant Ref 1: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Ref 2: Ben O’Keeffe
TMO: James Doleman

Teams

Highlanders

15 Vilimoni Koroi, 14 Sam Gilbert, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Patelesio Tomkinson, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Paripari Parkinson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (captain), 1 Ayden Johnstone

Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Teihorangi Walden, 23 Bryn Gatland

Chiefs

15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Quinn Tupaea, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Kaleb Trask, 9 Brad Weber (captain), 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Mitchell Brown, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross

Replacements: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Ryan Coxon, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Dylan Nel, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Etene Nanai-Seturo

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