Waikato Chiefs defence clinches tough win over Highlanders

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Waikato Chiefs defence clinches tough win over Highlanders
HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 30: Chiefs (L-R) Karl TuÕinukuafe and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi celebrates their win during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Highlanders at FMG Stadium on March 30, 2018 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

The Chiefs can celebrate a festive Easter weekend after clinching a tough win over the Highlanders, in a game that came right down to the wire, and then some. In the end it was the Waikato Chiefs defence that got them over the line.

Sam Cane became the latest Chiefs player to join the centurion club, but he and his fellow teammates had to dig deep and leave absolutely everything out on the field, in order to come out on the winning side of this match.

The experienced flanker received a rousing rendition of the Chiefs’ haka, performed after the game by his fellow comrades. It was a tribute to the senior players mana, joining in the sweet taste of success.

The Highlanders have always been one of those teams that trip up the Chiefs, and they’ve proven able to beat the Chiefs in Hamilton. In 2015, the men from the south got the better of the Chiefs three times in a row. So Colin Cooper would not have let his side relax this week, after a comfortable victory over the Sunwolves in the last round.

no side can afford to drop home games, as it has serious ramifications on title hopes.

In a typically entertaining and bruising kiwi-derby match, the Chiefs just pipped the Highlanders. But it was only a ‘very near thing’ to going in the complete opposite direction. With an attacking five-metre scrum, the Highlanders lost the ball in contact trying to charge over the line under the posts thanks to a big tackle by a committed Waikato Chiefs defence.

Colin Cooper wants ‘Smarter Rugby’ after close win

Chiefs coach Colin Cooper said that he was pleased that the result went the way of the Chiefs, but insisted that the team needs to play smarter rugby. Last Word On Rugby will have a feature with Cooper in the coming days. Meanwhile, Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger didn’t speak with the media.

The public reaction was similar. Fans believing the result was a little ‘too close’. Recognised social media pundit site the Driving Maul had both positive and negative insights, within his post-match report below.

Waikato Chiefs Defence holds on in 27-22 ‘thriller’

The Highlanders lost Lima Sopoaga within the first couple of minutes, after the first-five appeared to damage his right knee. The injury meant the visitors had lost one of their key playmakers; leaving a big job for replacement Fletcher Smith.

Both teams had their issues holding onto possession in the first half, but the Highlanders were the first to cross over for the five-pointer. Barnstorming winger Waisake Naholo (see below picture) continued to keep himself in the points. Latching onto a brilliant cross kick, as the Waikato Chiefs defence was caught with no one covering.

Highlanders Waisake Naholo (C) is tackeld during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Waikato Chiefs and the Otago Highlanders on March 30, 2018 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

Corners seemed to be the favourite spots for points in the first half, because the Chiefs had a stunning play saved up, for a ‘final crack’ before the break. With the Highlanders defence up, Damian McKenzie kicked for Toni Pulu on the wing, who caught the ball before handing it off to Solomon Aliamalo waiting in support. Aliamalo dived over the line, putting the Chiefs into the lead (13-7) as the break arrived.

Second half penalty count almost costs Chiefs victory

Penalties began to mount against the Chiefs, and after several successful defensive sets, Tevita Li busted over the line for the Highlanders, as the Waikato Chiefs defence finally succumbed. The Chiefs were also beginning to have problems in the kicking, and especially in the ‘clearing the ball’ department. This area of play would ultimately cost the home side; something Cooper must put right before it becomes an area of weakness.

First five McKenzie had a clearing kick charged down in the 64th minute, and this had the Chiefs reeling on their own five-metre line. Highlanders replacement Sio Tomkinson had an easy path to the try line, to put the visitors in front – but only for a few minutes. The very next time the Chiefs had the ball, they scored after a sustained and controlled build-up. Sean Wainui crossed in the corner, to show his finishing ability.

Ultimately, the Highlanders came close, but couldn’t wrestle back the advantage on the scoreboard. Three tries a piece, it was a successful Waikato Chiefs defence that held out to win, with McKenzie kicking the key penalties to claim the victory 27-22.

Chiefs – Tries: Solomon Alaimalo, Nathan Harris, Sean Wainui; Conversions: Damian McKenzie (3); Penalties: McKenzie (2)
Highlanders – Tries: Waisake Naholo, Tevita Li, Sio Tomkinson; Cons: Fletcher Smith (2); Pen: Smith.

 

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