Super Rugby champions the Waikato Chiefs withstood a fierce first half onslaught from the winless Otago Highlanders, but dominated after the break to run out 19-7 winners in a sometimes frenetic encounter in Hamilton yesterday.
A first-half try from center Tim Nanai-Williams and four penalties from the boot of fullback Gareth Anscombe proved sufficient for the win, which firmed up the hosts’ position atop the New Zealand conference.
The Highlanders, who started the season with high hopes of going deep into the competition, had a converted try from Aaron Smith in the first half, but were unable to add to that score and fell to their fourth straight defeat.
The Chiefs were forced to endure a breathless first-half assault from the visitors, but took an 10-0 lead against the run of play courtesy of an early Anscombe penalty and the eighth-minute try from center Nanai-Williams.
The try came from a Highlanders attack with Nanai-Williams showing good hands to scoop the ball up from his bootlaces after lock Josh Bekhuis’ fumble, before turning on the afterburners to race 55m to score.
The Highlanders continued to attack with ferocity and earned their reward in the 20th minute when, after a period of tryline pressure, scrumhalf Smith scooted down the blindside from a 5m scrum.
Their attacking intent was blunted only slightly by the yellow card shown to flanker Jarrad Hoeata for a high tackle on Aaron Cruden three minutes later, but the Chiefs held their ground to take a 13-7 lead into the break.
It took 21 minutes for the second half to produce a score when Anscombe landed his third penalty, although Chiefs center Andrew Horrell had come up only centimeters short of scoring his team’s second try five minutes earlier.
Anscombe added his fourth penalty after 69 minutes when the Highlanders were penalized at the scrum and the Chiefs continued to pounce on every Highlanders error.
The Highlanders continued to run the ball at every opportunity, but prop Chris King, who like Chiefs skipper Liam Messam was playing his 100th Super Rugby match, blew their best chance of a score when he charged for the line with an overlap outside him four minutes from time.