I just feel real proud of our effort tonight. –Highlanders captain Aaron Smith

Changes in the table

By Roger Childs 

Last weekend both matches needed the golden point rule to decide who had won. I’m no great fan of this way of determining the outcome as the losing team having battled 80 minutes for a draw comes away with no points. It will interesting to see if the golden point continues next season.

This weekend, the games were both thrillers and the two top sides were beaten in close encounters. The outcome is that the gaps have closed between the teams on the Super Rugby Aotearoa table. The Chiefs who lost their first two matches are now second out of five. However despite their loss on Saturday, the Crusaders are certain to win the round-robin.

The Highlanders win at home

The Blues travelled to Dunedin as favourites to play the home team under the roof at the Forsyth Barr Stadium. They were right in it until the 73rd minute when the visitors’ replacement prop Alex Hodgman made a crude clean-out barge hitting the chin of James Lentjes and received a red card.

The lead had chopped and changed and the Blues back often looked dangerous. Reiko Ioane was impressive at centre and Jonathan Ruru embarrassed his opposite, All Black Aaron Smith, early on by intercepting the latter’s pass on the goal line to score the first try. Otere Black controlled the game well from first five and All Black Caleb Clarke made several strong runs breaking tackles. Loose forwards Hoskins Sotutu and Dalton Popallii had solid games tackling well and making breaks and turnovers.

Aaron Smith recovered from his embarrassing misdirected pass early on and was one of the stars for the home team with his trade-mark rapid passing and his excellent backing up. Mitch Hunt at first five was in very good form and ran and kicked well. All three lossies were impressive for the Highlanders  — Japanese international Kazuki Himeno, Billy Harman and Shannon Frizell – with ball in hand, solid defence and hard won turnovers.

The game could have gone either way until the last 10 minutes, but Hodgman’s lack of discipline put paid to the visitors’ chances.

Last gasp win to the Chiefs

Damian McKenzie: match winner

This was another match which could have seen either side win until the 77th minute. The top of the table Crusaders travelled to Hamilton and were favoured to beat the home team. A well worked try to winger Leicester Fanga’anuku gave the visitors an early lead but three penalties to Damian McKenzie put the Chiefs into a 9-7 lead.

Will Jordan plays very much like Christian Cullen, being in the right place at the right time and running with plenty of pace. These two skills led to the visitors’ second try. Codie Taylor scored their third late in the game, but Mo’unga rushed the conversion which hit the post meaning that two crucial points were lost. Then Jonah Lowe scored an excellent try in the corner after a long pass from Lienert-Brown. The latter was one of the home team stars with strong running and excellent tackling. Lowe’s try made it 23-22 to the Chiefs, but a late Mo’unga penalty put the visitors ahead 25-23. The Chiefs went back on to the attack in the last five minutes and were rewarded with a penalty which McKenzie comfortably slotted. This sealed the home team’s victory 26-25 much to the delight of the large Hamilton crowd. 

The forward battle was fairly even especially in the scrumming, and Tom Sanders was impressive in the loose and captain Scott Barrett in the tight for the visitors. However overall the Chiefs loose forwards had the edge and Luke Jacobson and Mitchell Brown were stand outs. Another who impressed was hooker Samisoni Tauke’iaho who always got over the advantage line with ball in hand and was strong in the tight.

Finals time on 8 May

The Crusaders will be one finalist for the match in Christchurch. However their opponents could be either the Chiefs or the Blues or the Highlanders. There are two rounds still to play and an exciting finish to the second round is guaranteed.