The Highlanders beat the Chiefs 23-39 after a thrilling second-half comeback in Super Rugby Aotearoa at FMG Waikato Stadium, Hamilton.
Jona Nareki scored a sensational hat-trick and set-up Shannon Frizell’s second-half try after a sublime piece of attacking play.
This was a display that conjured up long remembered images of the great New Zealand wings. Moreover, Nareki might even have had the best game by any of them.
Joe Rokocoko. Doug Howlett. Jeff Wilson. Jonah Lomu. Julian Savea. Rieko Ioane. Sevu Reece. George Bridge.
You could continue to list the great Kiwi wingers and their best performances, but this was something else –– a performance for the ages. A masterclass. A virtuoso.
The winger could not be stopped, running for 195 metres with four line-breaks as he tore the Chiefs apart.
The 23-year-old bomber inspired his team with some elusive running and fine finishing, beating nine defenders on the way to his memorable Super Rugby Aotearoa treble. He is the future.
Josh Ioane added 14 points with the boot as the Highlanders fought back from a nine-point halftime deficit to run out comfortable 16-point winners in the Waikato.
The Landers dotted down five times to claim the bonus-point win. They turned on the style in the second stanza as the home team crumbled.
Folau Fakatava also notched a five-pointer in his side’s impressive victory. The visitors managed a try before halftime after Sio Tomkinson’s charge-down of Bryn Gatland set Nareki away for a 90-metre run.
The Chiefs led 20-11 at the interval after tries by Luke Jacobson and Damian McKenzie.
McKenzie added 13 points with the boot, but the Chiefs had no answer for Tony Brown’s men after halftime.
Tomkinson and Ash Dixon’s first-half yellow cards had no bearing on the final result as the Highlanders scored three tries in seven second-half minutes to blow away their hosts.
Clayton McMillan’s charges could only add a line McKenzie penalty after the break and have now lost five of the last six Super Rugby home games against the Landers.
The Dunedin side’s win extends their unbeaten run to five against the Hamilton franchise, who have now lost 10 Super Rugby matches in a row.
Both teams fell foul of referee Paul Williams as they leaked penalties. Seven penalties were awarded inside 13 minutes.
McKenzie and Ioane traded goals to make it 6-3 on the quarter-hour mark. The Chiefs punished Tomkinson’s yellow card, scoring a minute late after opting for a scrum.
Anton Lienert-Brown went close, beating a defender and carrying three on his back as he was brought down before the chalk.
Brad Weber composed himself, allowing his team time to line-up before playing in Jacobson for the score. McKenzie added the extras.
The penalties continued. Ioane, this time, kicking his second goal of the night to make it a one-score game on 26 minutes.
McMillan’s men hit back immediately when McKenzie ghosted through a massive gap to score under the posts. He converted to extend the score to 20-6.
Had the 25-year-old playmaker not scored, the visitors would probably have had another player in the sin-bin.
Nareki magic kick-starts Highlanders fightback
Just after the half-hour, the game changed when Gatland tried a cute chip-kick inside the Highlanders’ ‘Red Zone’. Tomkinson, having only just returned, charged down the first-five’s kick.
The ball could have gone anywhere; instead, it bounced into the arms of Nareki, who proceeded to race the length of the field and score under the sticks.
Jonah Lowe and Etene Nanai-Seturo gave chase, but the two wingers had no chance of catching the left-wing. Ioane converted.
The penalties mounted as the Dunedin men increased the tempo. Ten minutes after the interval, Fakatava sold an audacious dummy, sending Chiefs defenders one way, the scrumhalf the other.
The halfback slipped through the hole to dot down by the posts; Ioane’s conversion made it 20-18.
A minute later, the moment of the match. Nareki collected a nothing kick, just outside his 22. What happened next was electric.
The winger skipped past Gatland, slipped Sam Cane’s weak tackle near halfway, and raced towards the Chiefs’ 22. Weber, hanging back for an expected kick-return, found himself one-on-one in a mismatch of the ages.
Nareki lined up the diminutive scrumhalf and charged straight for the No 9. Weber had no chance as Nareki trampled over him à la Jonah Lomu on Mike Catt.
Sean Wainui made the tackle, but Nareki had already offloading a wonderful inside pass to the supporting Frizell to score. Just wow!
Nareki continued to dazzle the Chiefs, scoring two more to cap a sensational match in Hamilton
Two tries in two minutes, but the Landers were not done. Nareki was at it again, this time slicing through the opposition and wriggling his way to the try-line to end the game as a contest.
Ioane converted from the touchline: 20-18 had become 20-32 in the blink of an eye. Nareki, though, was not yet finished.
With 11 minutes remaining, a slick backline move saw the winger finish in the corner, beating two cover defenders to dot down by the flag. Ioane slotted the sideline kick to seal the deal.
In conclusion, Rugby has unearthed a new star.
Final Score: Chiefs 23 (20) Highlanders 39 (11)
Tries – Jacobson, McKenzie
Pen – McKenzie (3)
Con – McKenzie (2)
Tries – Nareki (3), Fakatava, Frizell
Pen – J. Ioane (2)
Con – J. Ioane (4)
Cards – Tomkinson (Yellow, 20′), Dixon (Yellow, 32′)
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant Ref 1: Mike Fraser
Assistant Ref 2: James Doleman
TMO: Brendon Pickerill
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Jonah Lowe, 13 Sean Wainui, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Brad Weber (co-captain), 8 Luke Jacobson, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Samipeni Finau, 5 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Reuben O’Neill
Replacements: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Mitchell Brown, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Xavier Roe, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Shaun Stevenson
15 Mitch Hunt, 14 Connor Garden-Bachop, 13 Ngantungane Punivai, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Folau Fakatava, 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Jack Regan, 4 Josh Dickson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 22 Solomon Alaimalo, 23 Hugh Renton