Rugby: No first-up win for Highlanders

Well, at least they can not be accused of getting off to a fast start.

The Highlanders went down 41-27 to the Chiefs at Forsyth Barr Stadium last night, with coach Jamie Joseph lamenting the lack of discipline in his side, as the Chiefs timed their run to perfection.

The previous two seasons the Highlanders had been great at the start of the season, winning their first four games last year and the opening three the season before.

But it was not to be last night, as the Chiefs rose to the challenge despite missing some key players.

The Highlanders looked good in patches, but too often that crucial final pass failed to find the man, and the Chiefs just stayed in the game and skipped clear in the last quarter of the match.

The game was very much in the balance when what looked like a Highlanders try quickly turned into a Chiefs seven pointer with 15 minutes left to play.

After a long phase of play the ball came to the Highlanders' right and two men were free with nothing in front of them.

But the ball was spilled, Chiefs centre Tim Nanai-Williams picked the ball up and skipped away to score.

Joseph said that play was ultimately a big factor in the game.

''It was fairly tight, but that try we should have probably scored and we found ourselves under the posts from there,'' Joseph said.

''I think we had something like a two-on-none but we spill the pass and they got the ball and from there they ran away with the game.

''Our discipline started letting us down. We started getting under pressure, began chasing the game, gave away a couple of penalties and then we were a few points down.''

Joseph praised the side for some fine attacking play but said near the end there was perhaps a lack of composure from some players.

''Some of the young guys were eager and tried hard but maybe we lacked a bit of leadership there. It is a bit hard for Hosea [Gear] out on the wing. Perhaps we needed the likes of Horey [suspended captain Andrew Hore] with Brad Thorn backing him up when the game was tight to show a bit of leadership, a bit of composure.''

The Highlanders conceded more than their share of breakdown penalties, and Chiefs fullback Gareth Anscombe helped himself to 21 points.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said he was thrilled with the spirit of his side.

Nanai-Williams, who scored two tries and was a handful on attack, playing out of position at centre, was in doubt in the lead-up to the game, battling flu and diarrhea.

Rennie said the side scrambled very well on defence and that reflected the hard work the team had done in pre-season.

''It was outstanding spirit from the guys and you could not fault the effort of the guys,'' Rennie said.

''To come down here and grab five points and deny the Highlanders any points at all is an outstanding effort.''

The Highlanders scored the first try of the game and it went to hometown boy Ben Smith.

First five-eighth Lima Sopoaga spied a hole in the defence and when it closed he passed in to Smith, who managed to worm his way over from 5m out after 12 minutes.

But the Chiefs quickly replied.

Centre Nanai-Williams found a huge gap in the Highlanders' midfield off a scrum and proceeded to show a clean pair of heels over 50m to score.

Anscombe added the extras and another quick couple of penalties which had his side up 16-7 after half an hour.

The Highlanders, though, hit back with two minutes left in the half, with Gear showing his finishing skills.

He received the ball about 15m out and cut through three defenders to dot down.

In the other game last night, the Brumbies beat the Rebels 30-13 in Melbourne.


Highlanders v Chiefs
The scores
Chiefs ... 41

Tim Nanai-Williams 2, Patrick Osborne, Aseali Tikorotuma tries, Gareth Anscombe 3 con, 5 pen

Highlanders ... 27
Ben Smith, Hosea Gear, Kade Poki tries, Lima Sopoaga 3 con, 2 pen

Halftime: 16-14 Chiefs
Crowd: 17,511