The Waikato Chiefs prevailed in a physical battle of attrition to beat the high-flying Otago Highlanders 20-7 in Hamilton, New Zealand, yesterday and keep alive their slim hopes of making the Super Rugby playoffs.
Converted tries from Brendan Leonard and Liam Messum at either end of the second half and two Stephen Donald penalties in the first period proved sufficient to edge the Highlanders, who were held scoreless in the second half.
The match was decided at the breakdown, where the Chiefs’ pack won a tight contest to prevent the Highlanders, who were looking for their eighth win of the season, from building any sort of momentum after halftime.
“We really needed this one, it wasn’t pretty but thankfully we ended up on the right end of it,” Chiefs skipper Mils Muliaina said in a pitchside TV interview. “It took us 40 minutes to get the physicality back in there and we came out, scored early and thankfully got the win.”
It will take a monumental effort for the Chiefs to make the post-season after registering just their fourth victory in 11 games this year, but in the first half it looked like those faint hopes were about to be extinguished.
Highlanders flyhalf Lima Sopoaga produced one of the few moves of any real quality in the match to give the visitors the lead after just eight minutes.
The promising youngster stepped off his left foot to break through the Chiefs line and, with the home defense in disarray, lofted the ball out to Jason Rutledge on the wing and the hooker crossed the line unmolested.
The Highlanders never managed to pull away, however, with fullback Robbie Robinson failing to convert two penalty attempts to add to his conversion and they held just a slender 7-6 lead at the break.
They were made to play for their profligacy when scrumhalf Leonard nipped over the line from close range three minutes after the break after a period of Chiefs pressure.
The Highlanders, who lost influential back-rower Adam Thomson with what looked like a rib injury at the break, were unable to create any real chances and Messum crashed over from close range just before the end to inflate the scoreline.
“We let ourselves down with a few too many mistakes, we wanted to build pressure and hold onto the ball but we just managed to turn the ball over too much,” Highlanders skipper Jamie Mackintosh said.
CHEETAHS 53, LIONS 19
Fullback Riaan Viljoen scored three tries and flyhalf Sias Ebersohn succeeded with all 10 of his kicks at goal, as the Free State Cheetahs blitzed the Lions in their match at Ellis Park on Friday.
The Cheetahs started the game at a terrific pace and, backed by fine handling and support play, simply ran the Lions off their feet.
Apart from failing to come close to matching the scintillating attacking play of the Cheetahs, the Lions will also be haunted by their awful work in the set-pieces.
The visitors were quickly 6-0 ahead after two Ebersohn penalties in the first six minutes, but the Lions scored the first try, in the eighth minute, as flanker Joshua Strauss ploughed over from a 5m scrum with fine support from lock David de Villiers at his back.
Flyhalf Burton Francis converted to give the Lions a 7-6 lead, but it would be the last points they scored for an hour as the Cheetahs clinically shut them out of the game by dominating the scrums, lineouts and breakdowns.