Rugby: Highlanders well beaten at breakdown

Hosea Gear
Hosea Gear
It has been a hallmark of their play in the past two seasons but it was strangely amiss at Taupo on Saturday.

Suffice to say Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph will have his side working hard at the breakdown over the next couple of weeks.

The Highlanders lost 36-14 to the Chiefs in Taupo, in sweltering conditions, on Saturday, after trailing 22-7 at the break, in the first hit-out for the season for both sides.

Though not too downcast about finishing on the wrong side of the scoreline, Joseph was particularly bothered by the way his forward pack failed to front up.

Tony Ensor
Tony Ensor
''Our forwards were beaten up front and that is disappointing and surprising that happened. One of the features of our game in the past couple of years has been at the breakdown but that didn't happen and we lost out up front,'' Joseph said.

''Perhaps we have become well known for it, so when teams come to face us, then they really know they have to lift their game in that area and rise up another 5% for us. I know that over the next few weeks we are going to have to put a lot of work into it.''

Joseph said the side started well but blew a try and from then on was always behind the eight ball as the Chiefs, minus their All Blacks for the bulk of the game, got away and scored five tries.

Both tries for the visiting side were scored by outside men Hosea Gear and Tony Ensor, and Joseph said the backs looked dangerous when they hung on to the ball.

''Our set piece was fine. We scrummaged well and the lineout ball we needed to get, we got. The backs scored a nice try off a set piece, which is always nice for coaches.

''But there was a bit too much dropped ball and 50-50 balls thrown. That can sometimes be put down to a lack of combination and a lack of time together. Now we have to get out on the training paddock and get it sorted out.''

The match was played in quarters and both sides made plenty of changes.

One plus for the Highlanders was no new injuries picked up and Joseph hoped to get some more players back into the line-up this Friday when the side takes on the Crusaders, in Oamaru.

New Chief Gareth Anscombe made an encouraging debut for his side, scoring 21 points, including two tries.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie was happy with his side's defence.

''In terms of defence, we gave away a soft try at the end but on the whole, we defended well,'' Rennie said.

He said the goal-line defence and work ethic was especially pleasing.

''The players have been training for a long time and it was good for them to have a proper hit out.''

The two sides will meet in the opening game of the Super 15 at Forsyth Barr Stadium on February 22, and little can be taken from Saturday's encounter when that match rolls around.

The Highlanders finish their pre-season against the Blues, in Queenstown on February 15.

Additional reporting by Gary Hamilton-Irvine.


Highlanders v Chiefs
The scores

Chiefs 36
Gareth Anscombe 2, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Augustine Pulu, Fritz Lee tries; Gareth Anscombe 4 con, 1 pen

Highlanders 14
Hosea Gear, Tony Ensor tries; Lima Sopoaga 2 con