Highlanders steal it at the death

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06 Mar 2015
Highlanders steal it at the death

Marty Banks' late penalty snatched victory for the Highlanders in a controversial finish to their 20-17 win over the Chiefs in Hamilton.

A combined 12 missed points of the kicking tee from Aaron Cruden and Andrew Horrell were ultimately expensive, as two late penalties drove the Highlanders upfield and gave Banks the chance to win it - the first from a call to sin-bin James Lowe for an alleged dangerous tackle on Malakai Fekitoa.

Too often the Chiefs execution was sub-par, with Cruden having one of his off-days and Lowe the lone Chiefs back truly making ground throughout.

Upping their intensity after the interval the Chiefs scored two penalty tries within ten minutes off the back of their huge advantage at the scrum to score 14 unanswered points and take the lead.

Shrugging off the Highlanders has proven to be a tricky task for teams in Super Rugby in recent times and this was just another example, a dogged performance from the away side seeing them take a 14-3 lead into the half-time break despite the Chiefs enjoying almost 82 percent of the territory.

Despite their pack taking a pounding early in the second half they clung in there and stayed in the game long enough to achieve a big win.

The Chiefs execution was way off target in the first half, Cruden missing two penalties while for all of their field position they couldn't get over the white line.

Heroic defence from the likes of Elliot Dixon exemplified the effort from the visitors throughout the opening 40 minutes and it wastypical that having been under the cosh in their 22 for so long that their try, the only one of the first half, came from a breakaway.

Shaun Treeby set off into space making it over halfway before he was dragged down but good handling and a number of touches from the inspirational Ben Smith kept the move alive.

The ball was worked wide to Patrick Osborne and the powerful winger burst off his left foot inside three defenders to drive his way over for the score.

Osborne's solo effort combined with three penalties from the boot of Liam Sopoaga had the Highlanders surprisingly but deservedly ahead 14-3 at the break, just reward for their resilience.

Outpowered in the first half, the Chiefs were a shadow of the side that overwhelmed the Crusaders a week ago but they looked back to their old selves as the match wore on.

The Highlanders lost tighthead prop Ma’afu Fia early on and Josh Hohneck was under constant pressure from Ben Tameifuna, all leading to the Chiefs' first five-pointer.

A couple of driving lineouts from the Chiefs were stopped short, with Joe Wheeler sent to the bin after doing so illegally, before the home pack got a nudge on and drove their way towards the line to secure a penalty try.

Now fully in charge the Chiefs hunted out a second try for the lead, opting for multiple scrums from penalties close to the Highlanders line against their seven-man opponents with Wheeler off.

Similar dominance brought the same result - a second penalty try for the Chiefs after more scrummaging excellence to put them ahead 17-14 with Cruden's easy conversion.

Cruden sprayed another penalty well wide, his third miss of the night, but all the momentum was with the Chiefs as they controlled possession and territory heading into the final quarter.

Penalties racked up against the Highlanders - 16 to the Chiefs' six at one stage - as Horrell took over the kicking duties but had no better luck with his effort clattering back off the post.

Time remained for the Highlanders to change the result and Banks did just that with a well-taken penalty four minutes from time to level things up at 17-17.

The key decision to yellow card Lowe then set the Highlanders on their way upfield for Banks to deliver victory to the Highlanders.