The Chiefs beat the Highlanders 26-16 to open their Super Rugby Pacific account at Wakatipu Rugby Club, Queenstown.
The Chiefs scored three tries to one as they begin their Super Rugby season with a hard-fought win on the picturesque South Island.
Sam Cane, Pita Gus Sowakula, and Emoni Narawa dotted down for the ‘home team’, and Josh Ioane kicked two penalties and a conversion, while Bryn Gatland secured the points with a lone late goal of his own.
Daniel Lienert-Brown scored his team’s only try in the second half, and Mitch Hunt kicked three penalties and a conversion for 11 points.
Cane and Sowakula’s tries, and the boot of debutant Ioane, saw the Chiefs take a deserved 18-6 halftime lead in the Queenstown Lake District.
Two penalties from Hunt was all the Highlanders had to show after an error-strewn first 40 minutes of the new Super Rugby campaign.
Hunt added an early penalty but debutant Narawa scored his side’s third try moments later to make it 23-9 eight minutes after the restart.
James Lentjes had a try chalked off with 14 minutes remaining, but the Landers did eventually get their five-pointer.
Lienert-Brown barged over and Hunt converted with 10 minutes left on the clock.
A late Gatland penalty, with less than five minutes to play, settled the tough Kiwi contest.
The Chiefs dominated the half outscoring the Highlanders two tries to none to take a deserved lead
Ioane opened the scoring in the sixth minute, but Hunt kicked two goals in quick succession to give the Landers the lead after a quarter of an hour on a beautiful afternoon in Wakatipu.
The joy did not last long, however, as Cane barged over under the posts following a scrum outside the opposition’s 22.
Xavier Roe took Sowakula’s pass off the base of the scrum and raced into the 22 before offloading to the supporting Alex Nankivell.
Nankivell drew a defender and passed inside to the rampaging Cane for the skipper’s 16th Super Rugby try. Ioane added the extras.
Clayton McMillan’s men controlled possession and territory, had more carries, made more line breaks, and were more disciplined.
Tony Brown’s charges could not get out of their 22. When they had an opportunity to put pressure on the Waikato men, they botched a lineout, or poor handling killed an attack.
With the pressure mounting, Sam Gilbert gave away a needless penalty allowing Ioane to kick to the corner. Jermaine Ainsley’s obstruction at the next phase led to Cane opting for a touchline scrum five metres out.
It was a masterstroke by the captain. Sowakula broke down the blindside and scored untouched in the corner.
The Highlanders’ scrum collapsed, Shannon Frizell could not get to the big No. 8, and Aaron Smith could not get around to cover either.
Ioane missed the sideline kick, but McMillan’s side had a 12-point lead at the interval.
Chiefs increased their advantage as lackluster Landers continued to misfire
Hunt kicked his third goal soon after the restart, but the Hamilton men struck again four minutes later.
Narawa – on debut – finished off a sublime attacking play to increase the lead. Shaun Stevenson’s break and fend set up the score before the winger offloaded to Sowakula.
Sowakula and Cane combined down the right-hand side before the ball got shifted wide left to Narawa. The fullback played a one-two switch move with Brodie Retallick to create the overlap and space to score in the corner.
Ioane pushed his kick wide, but the gap was already big.
Both teams botched try-scoring chances before Lentjes’ disallowed score on 66 minutes.
Lentjes thought he scored his sixth Super Rugby try after a slick move involving Hunt, Fetuli Paea, and Liam Coltman. However, the TMO looked at the replay and saw Coltman’s forward pass.
Brown’s men kept coming and were finally rewarded for their effort when Lienert-Brown crashed over from close range a few minutes later. Hunt converted to make it a one-score game with 10 to play.
But it was not to be for the Dunedin franchise as a late Waikato flourish finished off the game.
A 17-phase attack ended with the Chiefs getting a kickable penalty in front of the posts inside the opposition’s 22.
Gatland made no mistake, winning McMillan’s men the points.
Final Score: Chiefs 26 (18) Highlanders 16 (6)
Tries – Cane, Sowakula, Narawa
Pen – J. Ioane (2), Gatland
Con – J. Ioane
Tries – D. Lienert-Brown
Pen – Hunt (3)
Con – Hunt
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant Ref 1: Angus Mabey
Assistant Ref 2: Marcus Playle
TMO: Chris Hart
15 Emoni Narawa, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Alex Nankivell, 12 Quinn Tupaea, 11 Jonah Lowe, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Xavier Roe, 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Laghlan McWhannell, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 Bradley Slater, 1 Ollie Norris
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Kaylum Boshier, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Chase Tiatia
15 Sam Gilbert, 14 Mosese Dawai, 13 Fetuli Paea, 12 Scott Gregory, 11 Josh Timu, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith (captain), 8 Gareth Evans, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Bryn Evans, 20 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 21 Folau Fakatava 22 Marty Banks, 23 Thomas Umaga-Jensen