Chiefs hold off Highlanders
Hard-fought win keeps Waikato franchise top
By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter: @SkysportsTC. Last Updated: 29/06/12 10:29am
The Chiefs maintained their advantage at the top of the Super Rugby standings with a hard-fought 27-21 win over the Highlanders.
The Chiefs had to defend for long periods - particularly in the first half - but they made the most of the opportunities that came their way.
Tim Nanai-Williams and Robbie Robinson crossed for tries, while New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden weighed in with 17 points.
The Highlanders continued to make life uncomfortable for the Waikato club and they were rewarded with tries from Andrew Hore and Hosea Gear, as well as three penalties from Chris Noakes and a conversion from Mike Delaney.
Nanai-Williams opened the scoring in the third minute after Aaron Smith was caught in possession. Sonny Bill Williams and Tawera Kerr-Barlow combined brilliantly on the counter to release Nanai-Williams, who just did enough to score. Cruden converted.
The Highlanders responded with a simple penalty from Noakes but it was cancelled out by a three-pointer from Cruden.
The home side were dominating possession and territory but they were only able to add two further penalties from Noakes as the Chiefs defence held firm.
And the Chiefs made them pay before the break - with another error allowing the visitors to turn defence into attack. Noakes' clearance was charged down, allowing the Chiefs to snaffle possession and although Kerr-Barlow was tackled he was able to combine with Williams once again to release Robinson to run in unopposed.
Cruden missed the conversion but he slotted over a penalty after the hooter had sounded to put the Chiefs 18-9 in front.
And Cruden was on target again 20 seconds after the break as the Highlanders infringed from the restart
The Highlanders, though, profited from a Chiefs error when the league leaders failed to take their own lineout and from the resulting breakdown on the line, Hore was able to touch the ball down.
Cruden gave the Chiefs a 10-point cushion with a well struck penalty before following it up with his sixth successful shot at goal.
However the Highlanders refused to give up and Gear's try with five minutes left - the winger powering over from close range - and Delaney's conversion set up a nail-biting finale.
The home side gave their all in the final moments - with play continuing long after the hooter - but the Chiefs were able to keep them out.