Tim Nanai-Williams grabbed a brace as Waikato Chiefs made a winning start to their Super Rugby title defense with a 41-27 bonus point victory over Otago Highlanders in a seven-try thriller yesterday.
The center crossed once in each half and wingers Patrick Osborne and Asaeli Tikoirotuma also got on the scoreboard, while debutant Chiefs fullback Gareth Anscombe added 21 points with an almost perfect display of kicking.
The Highlanders, roared on by a passionate crowd under the roof of the Otago Regional Stadium, held the lead three times in an engaging contest, but in the end tries from their back three — Ben Smith, Hosea Gear and Kade Poki — were not enough.
“Across the board, we’ll be a little disappointed to have let in a few tries but we’ve got a hell of an exciting team so hence we scored a few points,” Chiefs skipper Craig Clarke said.
Nanai-Williams’s breakaway second score after 65 minutes proved decisive as he pounced on a dropped ball to turn try line pressure from the Highlanders into a bonus point for the Chiefs with a simple shimmy and a sprint down the touchline.
Playing in a midfield shorn of the departed Sonny Bill Williams, his first try after 14 minutes was just as simple as he accelerated into a gap left by an overly keen Ma’a Nonu before goose-stepping to round Highlanders fullback Ben Smith.
Smith had moments earlier scored the pick of the home side’s tries when, in one movement, he picked up a pass from his boot laces and twisted through the air past three tacklers to touch down under the posts.
“Little bit disappointed, but I’m proud of the way the boys hung in there,” Highlanders skipper Gear said. “It just got away from us in the end there and all credit to the Chiefs, I think they played really well.”
Anscombe, picked up by the Chiefs after being dumped by the Auckland Blues, scored the first points of the match with his opening penalty and the last with his fifth, adding three of four conversions to cap an impressive debut.
BRUMBIES V REBELS
ACT Brumbies turned the screw in the second half to overturn a narrow deficit and earn a convincing 30-13 bonus point victory over the Melbourne Rebels in a Super Rugby contest yesterday.
Fullback Jesse Mogg backed up his brace from the opening weekend with a brilliant individual try in the first half and it was his break that set up a first try since his comeback from retirement for former Wallabies winger Clyde Rathbone.
However, Australia flanker Scott Higginbotham grabbed his first try for the Rebels and two penalties and a conversion from James O’Connor gave the hosts a 13-12 lead at halftime.
With openside David Pocock leading the Brumbies’ dominance of the breakdown, the visitors kept the Rebels scoreless after the break and racked up 18 unanswered points, including tries from skipper Ben Mowen and replacement back Robbie Coleman.
“We knew what we had to do, we just had to flick that switch,” Mowen said in a pitchside interview. “We’re confident in our systems, but things don’t just happen, you have to rock up and make them happen.”
Mogg has started the new season on fire and only five minutes had gone when he exploded up the sideline, chipped the ball past the last defender and beat Nick Phipps in a footrace to ground the ball.
Some 12 minutes later, Mogg’s opposite number O’Connor showed his class by skipping past four defenders before offloading to Higginbotham, who raced across the line to score.
Rathbone, who won 26 caps for Australia before retiring because of injury in 2009, benefited from another burst up the middle from Mogg to touch down in the corner four minutes before the break.
The South African-born winger showed he had lost none of his hard edge when he clattered into O’Connor eight minutes after halftime and forced the Wallabies back off the pitch for the remainder of the match.
With flyhalf Kurtley Beale also struggling with an injured arm, the Rebels were blunted as an attacking force and two Christian Lealiifano penalties and a rampaging run for a try from No. 8 Mowen took the Brumbies out to a healthy lead.
When replacement back row forward Jarrod Saffy was sin-binned with 11 minutes remaining, the fourth try for a bonus point looked inevitable and Coleman duly delivered by running straight through the hapless Beale.