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Highlanders upset Chiefs in Super rugby opener

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Article Published: Saturday 25 February 2012

The Highlanders kicked off their 2012 Super Rugby campaign by upsetting the Chiefs 19-23 in Hamilton after trailing 19-9 earlier in the match.

The Chiefs looked to be running away with the match but then their injuries mounted and this allowed the Highlanders back into the match.

Ironically the team with the injury concerns going into the match was the Highlanders and they had to bring in new arrivals Tamati Ellison and James Haskell who were playing in Japan last week.

The first to leave was prop Ben Afeaki with a suspected broken arm in the first half.

Afeaki was followed in the second half by Brendon Leonard with a suspected hamstring, Lelia Masaga with a crocked knee and then the match went to uncontested scrums when Toby Smith limped off.

The Highlanders scored two late tries to overcome a Chiefs outfit boasting high-profile recruits Sonny Bill Williams and Aaron Cruden.

The Highlanders drew first blood with a penalty to Super Rugby debutant Chris Noakes in the first minute.

The Chiefs then suffered a setback when prop Ben Afeaki left the field with a suspected broken arm but Williams and Cruden soon had the home side back on level terms.

A driving run from Williams, who joined from the Crusaders, earned a penalty for the Chiefs, which was converted by fellow All Black Cruden, an off-season signing from the Hurricanes.

Noakes re-established the Highlanders' lead with another penalty, only for the Chiefs to counter with a try when Williams and Cruden combined again to leave Otago's defence flat-footed and send Leila Masanga over the line.

Williams, a part-time boxer who won the New Zealand heavyweight title earlier this month, showed why the Chiefs were so eager to sign him with some powerful runs and offloads from seemingly impossible situations.

The final stages of the first half became an attritional slog, with Cruden potting two more penalties to extend the Chiefs' lead and Noakes notching one more to keep the Highlanders within touching distance at 16-9.

The Chiefs dominated possession after the break, running into some ferocious Highlanders defence, and were rewarded when Cruden slotted home his fourth penalty in the 50th minute.

But the Chiefs' injury woes mounted when Masanga went off after twisting his knee and and half-back Brendon Leonard was replaced after hurting his hamstring.

The Highlanders made the most of the opportunity when Aaron Smith forced his way across the tryline with 20 minutes to go, with Noakes making the conversion to narrow the scoreline to 19-16.

A moment of magic from Jason Rutledge then put the Highlanders ahead, the hooker charging down a Cruden kick near the Chiefs' line, then re-gathering and sending a pass to Phil Burleigh for a try.

Another Noakes conversion made it 23-19 and the Highlanders concentrated on holding onto the ball in the final 10 minutes, seeing off a late raid from the Chief to seal the win.

Final Score Chiefs 19 Highlanders 23


Tries - L Masaga
Pen - A Cruden 4
Con - A Cruden
Drop -
Cards -

Tries - A. Smith, P. Burleigh
Pen - C.Noakes 3
Con - C Noakes 2
Drop -
Cards -

Referee: Jonathon White
AR1: Vinny Munro
AR2 : Nick Briant
TMO : Bryce Lawrence



1. Arizona Taumalolo,2. Hika Elliot,3. Ben Afeaki,4. Craig Clarke,5. Brodie Retallick ,6. Liam Messam (c),7. Sam Cane,8. Fritz Lee,9. Brendon Leonard,10. Aaron Cruden,11. Tim Nanai-Williams,12. Sonny Bill Williams,13. Richard Kahui,14. Lelia Masaga,15. Robbie Robinson

Replacements :16. Mahonri Schwalger,17. Toby Smith,18. Michael Fitzgerald,19. Tanerau Latimer,20. Tawera Kerr- Barlow,21. Andrew Horrell,22. Asaeli Tikoirotuma


1 Jamie Mackintosh (C), 2 AndrewHore, 3 Chris King, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 5 Nick Crosswell, 6 Adam Thomson, 7 John Hardie, 8 Nasi Manu, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 10 Chris Noakes, 11 Hosea Gear,12 Phil Burleigh,13 Tamati Ellison,14 Buxton Popoali'i,15 Ben Smith

Reserves :16 Jason Rutledge,17 Bronson Murray,18 Culum Retallick,19 James Haskell,20 Aaron Smith,21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Kurt Baker

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