Highlanders re-ignite season with BP win

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30 May 2015
Highlanders re-ignite season with BP win

The Highlanders picked apart a poor Chiefs side with a convincing 36-9 victory down at Rugby Park in Southland.

Tries from in-form wingers Patrick Osborne and Waisake Naholo either side of half-time and late efforts from Richard Buckman and Ben Smith ensured they took away maximum points, as Lima Sopoaga punished the Chiefs with the boot.

Victory means the Highlanders strengthen their position in the wildcard spots for now with a tenth win of the season, a franchise Super Rugby record.

They were once again inspired by a moment of magic from Naholo, whose future now seems set to be in New Zealand rather than with Clermont in France. His ninth try of the season moves him within one of Jeff Wilson's Highlanders record of 10 in a campaign.

For maybe the first time this season the number of Chiefs absentees through injury really shone through, with no Brodie Retallick, Liam Messam, Aaron Cruden, Sonny Bill Williams or James Lowe to call upon.

There were simply too many errors from the Chiefs for them to be truly competitive with a high number of missed tackles and handling errors.

This was accentuated by the aggression from the Highlanders at the breakdown, as they constantly forced errors out of their opponents.

Those errors made life a lot of easier for Sopoaga, with the Chiefs coughing up early penalties for him to add six points off the boot within three minutes after Damien McKenzie had missed an earlier attempt.

Played under the Southland mist at Rugby Park both sides have been renowned for their entertaining attacking rugby this year, but in many ways they cancelled each other out early on.

McKenzie made no mistake with his second attempt off the tee to make the score 6-3 but the Highlanders came closest to the first try when Naholo was denied just short of the line by a tackle from the exciting fullback to dislodge the ball.

The Chiefs clung on but with penalties racking up against them at the scrum and breakdown they were constantly under pressure, with the Highlanders eventually getting their score.

Osborne was the man to deliver it as the powerful busted through some flimsy tackling by Hosea Gear to cut in off his left wing and drive over for the try after half an hour.

Sopoaga couldn't convert but facing an 11-3 deficit the Chiefs rallied, bringing their big ball carriers into the game and starting a long phase of pressure inside the Highlanders 22.

The visitors looked to have snatched a try back through Damien McKenzie after he raced on to the kick ahead from his brother Marty, but despite the referee initially awarding the try, after consultation with the TMO the score was controversially scratched off, keeping the Highlanders ahead by eight at the interval.

The Chiefs needed to respond after half-time but instead the Highlanders struck with a super score from Naholo, the winger standing at first receiever off the lineout and blasting his way past Augustine Pulu before an arcing run took him to the corner at speed.

Sopoaga's conversion gave the Highlanders a sizeable 18-3 advantage but Damien McKenzie did his best to chip back at the lead with two penalties.

A third penalty from Sopoaga however maintained the home side's dominance at 21-9 heading into the final quarter and his fourth successful three-pointer not long after brought up 400 points for him in Super Rugby.

The Chiefs continued to fall further away as they struggled to get out of their half, making any kind of result for Dave Rennie's men unlikely.

Instead the Highlanders rubber-stamped their victory as they swept down the blindside, with Aaron Smith feeding Richard Buckman to go over in the corner.

There was still time for the Highlanders to try and find a bonus point try with four minutes to go and a central scrum, and they got it with time to spare.

The captain Ben Smith spun his way over out wide to make sure the home side clinched all five points to move within nine of the Hurricanes, capping off an outstanding display.