HAMILTON, New Zealand (AP) – The Chiefs earned consecutive wins against the Highlanders by a nervous 27-22 scoreline in captain Sam Cane’s 100th Super Rugby match on Friday.
The Highlanders suffered back-to-back losses after starting the season with three straight wins.
Winger Solomon Alaimano scored in the last minute of the first half and hooker Nathan Harris in the third minute of the new half to give the Chiefs a 20-7 lead which was the largest in a tight home match.
It seemed tough to bridge for the Dunedin-based Highlanders, who lacked possession in the first spell. But they rallied with tries to winger Tevita Li and Sio Tomkinson to snatch back the lead at 22-20 after 64 minutes.
In a match full of changes of momentum, Sean Wainui scored to put the Chiefs ahead again in the 68th.
They then had to hold out a strong finish from the Highlanders, who had three attacking set-pieces in the last five minutes, a scrum and two lineouts. But they turned over possession under the goalposts as they attacked from the scrum and lost both lineouts, one to a poor throw and another to a superb take by Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick.
“We love these New Zealand derbies and to play one like this at home was special,” Cane said. “It was a pretty gutsy win as well. We hung in the fight.”
The Chiefs dominated possession in the first half and took a 6-0 lead with penalties to Damian McKenzie.
The Highlanders scored from almost their first possession when center Rob Thompson cross-kicked for winger Waisake Naholo who scored his third try in two games.
The Highlanders led 7-6 with a sideline conversion but the Chiefs came back with a brilliant try to Alaimalo just before the break. McKenzie put in a wide cross-kick and winger Toni Pulu caught the ball with both hands above his head and deflected it infield for Alaimalo to score.
Harris drove over at the start of the second half to give the Chiefs a lead which looked comfortable but proved less so when Li scored untouched off a long pass by scrumhalf Aaron Smith.
Tomkinson, in only his fourth Super Rugby game, then ran off a superb pass from Luke Whitelock to score and give the Highlanders the lead.
Wainui’s match-winner came four minutes later after a long buildup when he dived in at the left-hand corner for McKenzie to convert from the sideline.
“Even though they’ve (the Chiefs) got a lot of injuries, they’ve got a lot of spirit, and they’re playing behind a guy who played 100 games today,” Highlanders captain Ash Dixon said. “It didn’t matter who wore that jersey, they stood up and did him proud.”
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