The Chiefs took another step towards defending their title with a workmanlike 19-7 win over the Highlanders in their Vodacom Super Rugby match in Hamilton on Friday.
Far from spectacular and in a game riddled by mistakes, the Chiefs showed their class as they ground their way to victory against a game Highlanders side desperate to find their winning feet in a season of disappointment thus far.
In a game that was entertaining, the amount of possession coughed up and turnovers ultimately was a disappointment as both sides tried to entertain, but made way too many mistakes to be satisfied.
Fullback Gareth Anscombe’s 14 points was ultimately the difference as both sides scored a try apiece, although the Chiefs were unlucky to lose the ball over the line twice in the game.
Still considering the defending champs came back from South Africa only days before, their victory is all the more significant in that they won when the going got tough.
The Highlanders will be disappointed as they gave as good as they got, but failed to get the ball for large parts of the second half and while they threatened on attack a lot, they never got the payback for their efforts. Flyhalf Colin Slade’s three misses with the boot didn’t help matters either as the Chiefs kept on building a score when they had the opportunity.
It was that grasping of opportunities that set the two sides apart, and it showed early on when Tim Nanai-Williams grabbed a dropped ball by the Highlanders attack and sprinted 60 metres to score. While it had to be confirmed by the TMO, the try showed that given opportunities the Chiefs would take them.
The Highlanders came close to hitting back almost immediately when Kane Poki made a great run, but got given a dubious try when Aaron Smith went over from a five-metre scrum. The Chiefs' protests that Sam Cane was held back by Jared Hoeata were ignored by the referee when it was clear to see on the television replays.
Hoeata was yellow carded for a high tackle on Aaron Cruden shortly afterwards, and Anscombe’s boot put the home side 13-7 up at the break.
The Highlanders started well in the second half, but never really got their hands on the ball much, and when the Chiefs got into their half, they took the points with Anscombe pushing them further and further ahead.
It wasn’t a game for the ages, but the Chiefs showed a lot of heart in the victory, and showed that even when things don’t go their way, they can grind out a win.
Chiefs – Try: Tim Nanai-Williams. Conversion: Gareth Anscombe. Penalties: Gareth Anscombe (4)
Highlanders– Try: Aaron Smith. Conversion: Colin Slade.