Chiefs survive tough test
The Chiefs were given a thorough workout by the Highlanders before claiming their second win of the Super Rugby season with a 21-19 victory at Waikato Stadium on Saturday.
Co-captains Liam Messam and Aaron Cruden had to call on all their experience and skill to lift their team out of a torpor that left them unable to break the confidence and application of the Highlanders.
The Dunedin-based team competed at every phase but in the end the composure of the Chiefs allowed them to close out a tight contest.
Demonstrating what has made them the Super Rugby champions over the past two years, the Chiefs came back after going inside at half-time 16-7 down.
After Lima Sopoaga opened the scoring with a penalty, the home team scored the first try after 10 minutes when quick hands down the short side created room which wing Tim Nanai-Williams utilised to great effect to score.
Cruden converted but, by applying some old-fashioned grunt up front, the Highlanders continued to shut down the home team, Sopaga successfully kicking his second penalty in the 19th minute.
Any thought the visitors would miss the experience and know-how of veteran Brad Thorn were quickly dispelled as Tasmanian lock Joe Wheeler stepped up to revel in the situation.
Combining with fellow lock Jarrad Hoeta, he provided the impetus for some Highlanders driving play which was rewarded in the 32nd minute from a lineout.
Wheeler secured the ball and set up a rolling maul which was executed to perfection for flanker John Hardie to touch down.
Sopoaga gladly converted and added another penalty two minutes before half-time.
Showing a greater determination to hang on to the ball after the break, the Chiefs launched a string of pick-and-goes at the Highlanders line and the defence cracked in the 47th minute when number eight Messam got over the line.
Cruden converted but the Highlanders soon extended their lead by three courtesy of Sopoaga's fourth penalty goal.
However, it was Chiefs replacement flanker Liam Squire who charged away on a fine break that regained the lead for the home team.
A superbly-weighted cross-field kick by Cruden was controlled beautifully by wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma before he passed to Charlie Ngatai to score wide out.
That proved no issue to Cruden who landed a fine conversion to put the Chiefs out to 21-19.