Gareth Anscombe kicked 14 points in a low scoring match to keep the Highlanders winless so far this Super Rugby season.
The Chiefs led 13 – 7 at half time, kicking two penalties in the second half to win 19 – 7.
The Highlanders’ tactic from the outset was to play high paced rugby, planning on taking advantage of a Chiefs team that has travelled back from South Africa this week. It is a tactic that could well have worked, had their finishing been more accurate. The Highlanders enjoyed in excess of 70% of the possession and territory in the first half, yet was trailing at all times.
The Chiefs pounced on a turnover which saw Tim Nanai Williams streak half the field and scoring in the opening ten minutes. This came after the Highlanders were putting pressure on the Chiefs deep in their own half. The Highlanders did respond with a try of their own, Aaron Smith scoring soon after the runaway try, but were kept scoreless for the rest of the match.
The Chiefs showed guts and determination to keep the spirited Highlanders at bay, especially after having only four days to prepare for the match. The signs of a Champion side were clear as their defence was unforgiving and their potency on turnover ball turned the Highlanders around throughout the match.
Richard Kahui made his long-awaited return to Super Rugby, coming on in the last quarter of the match. His physicality was an instant boost to the Chiefs backline, breaking the defensive line and offloading like Sonny Bill Williams.
The Highlanders could have picked up at least a bonus point, if not pull off a surprise victory, had Colin Slade kicked his penalties. He missed nine points in kicks at goal, and a few more penalties in the second half when they were chasing the game, could have seen them record their first victory of the season.
The Highlanders return home to host the Reds next weekend, while the Chiefs have another New Zealand derby, facing the Blues.
By Richard Ferguson