Super Rugby

Late Highlanders heroics stun shell-shocked Chiefs

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The Highlanders edged the Chiefs 31-33 in thrilling Super Rugby Aotearoa Round Six clash at FMG Stadium, Hamilton.

Sio Tomkinson’s 82nd-minute converted try broke Chiefs’ hearts after a ferocious fightback saw the Highlanders twice overturn a 24-point deficit to win at the death.

The Highlanders won a nine-try thriller, mounting a spirited second-half attack, after a disastrous first stanza, to keep the Chiefs winless from five Super Rugby Aotearoa games.

The Dunedin side scored 20 unanswered points in 23 minutes with the inspirational Aaron Smith and Josh McKay at the forefront.

Smith scored a try and set-up Tomkinson’s five-pointer in a performance for the ages.

McKay played an integral part in three of the four second-half tries, stepping into the first receiver role and wreaking havoc with the Chiefs’ defensive line.

But it was the hosts who flew out of the gates.

First-half tries from Lachlan Boshier, Anton Lienert-Brown and Bradley Slater, and the accurate boot of Damian McKenzie, who set up Lienert-Brown’s score, saw the Chiefs race into a formidable 24-0 lead.

The Highlanders finally got on the board when Marino Mikaele-Tu’u crashed over on the half-hour.

Rob Thompson and Sam Cane both spent time in the sin-bin as tempers flared in this heated Kiwi derby.

Thompson’s card cost his side 10 points, while the Highlanders could not muster any scores while the All Blacks flanker sat on the sidelines.

The tries kept coming as the two teams traded blows.

Slater, Mitch Hunt and Smith all crossed in the third quarter.

McKenzie had a sensational individual try chalked off because of an accidental offside with 15 minutes remaining.

The Highlanders dominated the last quarter, while the Chiefs wilted under pace and intensity of their opponents.

Jona Nareki scored with less than five minutes to play to set up a thrilling finale.

Then Tomkinson broke Chiefs hearts when he scored after the hooter to level. Hunt knocked over winner, which was also the only time the visitors led in the contest.

It was Deja Vu for Warren Gatland’s men, who seem to be living in a perpetual nightmare against the men from Dunedin.

The last time these two sides met was in the opening round of the revamped New Zealand Super Rugby tournament.

Bryn Gatland – son of Chiefs coach Warren – came off the bench and slotted a 40-metre drop-goal in the closing minutes to secure a slender 28-27 for the Highlanders.

Terrible start for the shocking Highlanders as they concede three unanswered tries in 21 minutes and see a man go to the bin as Aaron Mauger’s men floundered.

Boshier, Lienert-Brown and Slater’s scores put the hosts in control.

Hunt had an awful start to the game with the boot, botching the delayed kick-off, also missing a couple of kicks.

He missed a routine penalty from in front, which kept the visitors scoreless, and Thompson was sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle.

McKenzie claimed a high ball and set up a Chiefs attack near the Landers’ 22.

The ball was recycled and sent to midfield where Boshier ghosted through a big gap to score under the posts.

The hosts had a second try six minutes later. McKenzie, taking the ball at first receiver, stepped inside and put Lienert-Brown away with a deft pass.

McKenzie’s second conversion made it 14-0 after 12 minutes.

Things got worse for the Otago men following the yellow card as the Chiefs added 10 points with the extra man.

McKenzie landed a penalty to make it a three-score game.

Slater dotted down early in the second quarter after a powerful driving maul by the home team’s forwards bulldozed the visitors’ pack.

The Landers found some momentum. They won a string of penalties inside the Chiefs’ 22 before finally crashing over after a powerful driving maul was halted on the goal-line.

Ash Dixon went close before the ball was recycled to Mikaele-Tu’u, who barged over for his team’s first points on the half-hour.

Super Rugby Aotearoa Round Six Video Highlights: Chiefs versus Highlanders at FMG Stadium, Hamilton

Hunt added the extras after Chiefs’ skipper Cane saw yellow for another deliberate foul in the build-up to the try.

Cane’s card did not, however, cost his side any points and his team took a commanding 17-point halftime lead into the shed.

Gatland’s men come out firing as Slater nets his second try of the match, but the Highlanders stay in touch with two tries of their own.

The Chiefs started the second half as they began the first, with an early try.

It came from another well-worked driving maul that the Landers had no answer. McKenzie converted Slater’s try to re-establish the home teams 24-point advantage.

Hunt scored a brilliantly worked try involving McKay and Michael Collins, moments later, but could not convert.

The Landers started to play, finding little holes in the Chiefs’ defence. Their persistence paid off when Smith rounded off a sublime free-flowing attack on 56 minutes.

The All Blacks No 9 collected McKay’s pop-pass – from the winger’s mini line-break – and sped away from Brad Weber to the try line.

The halfback was almost caught, but he played a fantastic one-two with Manaaki Selby-Rickit, who was tackled by Weber.

Smith regathered the ball from Selby-Rickit and burrowed over for the try.

This was the catalyst for the thrilling denouement.

Hunt’s conversion made it a two-score game going into the final quarter.

McKenzie’s try was chalked off on 65 minutes, which proved to be a costly turning point.

A series of penalties in the dying minutes gave the Landers hope of salvaging a late smash and grab.

On 75 minutes, Nareki took McKay’s flat pass and cut inside Quinn Tupaea and the backtracking Solomon Alaimalo before putting on the afterburners to make it 31-24.

Hunt had to make the wide conversion to give his side a chance of an unlikely victory.

Boshier, who had a monstrous match, won two penalties at the breakdown in the final minutes, which should have sealed the game for his side.

The Chiefs, however, conceded a needless penalty with seconds to go, giving the visitors one last shot.

A couple of driving mauls came to nothing, but the last one saw Smith break away and put Tomkinson away for the match-levelling try after the hooter sounded.

Cue scenes of jubilation from the Otago men.

Hunt converted as the crowd – and Chiefs – stood stunned in silence. Cue scenes of jubilation

Final Score: Chiefs 31 (24) Highlanders 33 (7)

Scorers

Chiefs 
Tries – Boshier, Lienert-Brown, Slater (2)
Pen – McKenzie
Con – McKenzie (4)
Drop –
Cards – Cane (Yellow, 30′)

Highlanders
Tries – Mikaele-Tu’u, Hunt, A. Smith, Nareki, Tomkinson
Pen –
Con – Hunt (4)
Drop –
Cards – Thompson (Yellow, 14′)

Match Officials
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Ref 1: Paul Williams
Assistant Ref 2: James Doleman
TMO: Brendon Pickerill

Teams

Chiefs

15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Kaleb Trask, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Bradley Slater, 1 Aidan Ross

Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Reuben O’Neill, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Quinn Tupaea

Highlanders

15 Michael Collins, 14 Josh McKay, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Scott Gregory, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Jack Whetton, 4 Pari-Pari Parkinson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Ayden Johnstone

Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ethan De Groot, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Jesse Parete, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Jona Nareki

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