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Highlanders grind down Chiefs to remain unbeaten

Perennial Super Rugby strugglers the Otago Highlanders continued their brilliant start to the season by grinding down the Waikato Chiefs for an upset 23-13 win in Dunedin on Friday.

The Highlanders, who surprised the Wellington Hurricanes 14-9 in the season-opener last week, overcame a fumbling start to score two tries in the second half and keep the Chiefs scoreless for the last 55 minutes.

Winger Kade Poki scampered over the line in the left corner to score the decisive try with seven minutes remaining, after he was set up following some clever play from fullback Ben Smith.

“It’s great to get two victories on the trot and get off to a good start,” Smith said in a televised interview after the second-round match of the southern hemisphere provincial competition.

“We stuck to our game plan. We thought in that second half, probably better to hang on to the ball and build a few phases and I think it worked for us.”

The Chiefs, for all their backline firepower, could manage only a single try in the first half and were let down by scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who was penalised for offside in front of the posts and sent off with 20 minutes left.

Kerr-Barlow’s infringement allowed replacement flyhalf Robbie Robinson to relieve the pressure by slotting the easiest of penalty goals to put the Highlanders 16-13 ahead.

Dominated possession
The Highlanders, who managed only three wins to finish 12th in last year’s 14-side competition, dominated possession in a lively first half but were made to pay for a series of fumbles and ill-directed passes.

Otago’s Lima Sopoaga and opposing flyhalf Mike Delany each slotted a pair of penalty goals before the Chiefs moved up a gear through the run of number eight Liam Messam.

The All Black back rower burst through the middle in a barnstorming run to drive the Chiefs to the 22, where Delany received a quick ball from a ruck before dancing through three defenders to plant the Chiefs’ first try next to the left post.

He converted his own try with his third straight kick from three attempts to put the Chiefs 13-6 up.

That was to be the last time the Chiefs troubled the scorers as the Highlanders defended strongly then mounted a fierce counter-attack after the break.

The hosts’ endeavour was rewarded when number eight Nasi Manu tapped a penalty kick to himself from a ruck in the 22 and pranced across the line for his team’s first try eight minutes into the second half.

Replacement back Stephen Donald had a chance to peg back the deficit to a converted a try with three minutes to play but his penalty attempt sailed wide to send the Chiefs slumping to their second straight loss. — Reuters

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