The Chiefs consolidated their lead at the top of the Super Rugby ladder yesterday, dashing the Highlanders’ hopes of a playoff spot with a 27-21 win in Dunedin.
In the first match back after a three-week break for international fixtures, both sides scored two tries apiece, but five penalties to Aaron Cruden proved the difference in a tightly contested New Zealand derby.
The win puts the Chiefs in prime position to top the New Zealand conference, although they face a tough final two regular season matches against the Crusaders and Hurricanes.
The Highlanders entered the match eighth on the ladder and, barring major upsets, have no chance of achieving a top-six playoff position.
“It’s not easy to get a win down in Dunedin,” Chiefs captain Craig Clarke said. “What pleased me the most was probably the heart of our defense towards the end when they were chasing the game, we just stayed in there and made some tackles.”
The Chiefs stunned the Highlanders with a try in the opening two minutes, Liam Messam intercepting a pass and sending Sonny Bill Williams down the field, with Tim Nanai Williams touching down for the five-pointer.
Cruden converted, but the Highlanders, their season on the line, continued to attack, earning two penalties to one to narrow the gap to 10-6 after 20 minutes.
They patiently dominated possession, but only managed to secure a penalty before conceding against the run of play three minutes before halftime after a charge down by Ben Tameifuna led to a Robbie Robinson try.
Cruden piled on the pressure with a penalty after the halftime siren, then another just after the restart to make it 21-9.
The hosts made the most of an attacking opportunity when Sonny Bill Williams was penalized for a shoulder charge, rewarded when they opted to run the ball and hooker Andrew Hore forced the ball over from a ruck.
The Chiefs responded with a period of sustained attack, but had a try disallowed when the ball was ruled held up over the line, only for the Highlanders’ Adam Thomson to concede a penalty and make it 24-14.
Hosea Gear managed a try for the Highlanders three minutes from time, but the Chiefs’ defense proved up to the task of keeping them out.
REDS 32, REBELS 17
AFP, MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
Defending champions Queensland Reds maintained their late push for the playoffs with a bonus-point win over the Melbourne Rebels in Melbourne yesterday.
The Reds clinched the extra point with a try by replacement back Nick Frisby six minutes from time to draw level with the Brumbies at the top of the Australian conference, with the Brumbies to play the Western Force in Perth today.
Queensland edged into the overall top six with their four tries coming from Chris Feauai-Sautia, Dominic Shipperley, Adam Wallace-Harrison and Frisby.
Mike Harris landed three conversions and two penalties to keep the Reds comfortably in front of the Rebels after leading 24-3 at halftime.
The Rebels fought back to trail 27-17 with 13 minutes left after converted tries to Kurtley Beale and Lachlan Mitchell, but Frisby’s late try saw off the Melbourne threat.
“First and foremost it was about getting the result and we did that in the first half but we dropped off a little bit in the second,” Reds skipper Will Genia said. “We got that fourth try, which is very important in terms of the competition and we were pleased with the way we finished the game.”