Chiefs roll on unbeaten as Highlanders upset Brumbies

by Alastair HIMMER
Lachlan Boshier scores a try for the Chiefs during their Super Rugby match against the Sunwolves

Damian McKenzie was in sparkling form as the Waikato Chiefs maintained their unbeaten start to the season with a rout of the Sunwolves, while the Otago Highlanders converted a last-gasp try to stun the ACT Brumbies.

McKenzie, who missed last year's World Cup in Japan because of injury, capped a superb performance with 11 points from a try and three conversions in Tokyo as the Chiefs ran away with a 43-17 victory.

A Folau Fainga'a hat-trick wasn't enough for the Brumbies with Teariki Ben-Nicholas scoring a try after the full-time buzzer and Josh Ioane converting to ensure the Highlanders won 23-22, ending a 10-match win streak at home for the Canberra club.

Elsewhere, the Wellington Hurricanes brought the Coastal Sharks' winning run to a halt. The two sides were locked 17-all at half-time before a Ben Lam double put the momentum firmly with the 'Canes who won 38-22.

The Chiefs, who rested several top names including regular captain Sam Cane, were caught napping early when flyhalf Garth April wriggled over for the Sunwolves to open the scoring.

But with last year's shock loss to the Tokyo outfit still haunting the Chiefs, they quickly came alive with McKenzie releasing Solomon Alaimalo to touch down in the corner.

"If you don't turn up with the right attitude any team can beat you. We found that out the hard way, that (result last year) was a massive driver for us today," Chiefs' stand-in captain Brad Weber said.

Tries by Shaun Stevenson, Weber and McKenzie for the Chiefs before Jaba Bregvadze bowled over on the halftime buzzer for the Sunwolves saw the visitors turn with a 24-12 lead.

Lachlan Boshier raced through to add a fifth try for the Chiefs soon after the restart and after Shogo Nakano pulled one back for the Sunwolves, the New Zealanders hit back with two late scores from Quinn Tupaea and Kaleb Trask.

"It was incredibly important," Weber said of the win.

- Proud -

The Dunedin-based Highlanders were desperate for victory after crashing 42-20 to the Sharks in their season opener last weekend, and they delivered for skipper James Lentjes.

"Absolutely proud of the boys. It came down to the wire and we showed composure to get over the line. It's an awesome feeling," he said. "They had won 10 in a row here so to get points, we're bloody happy."

The Highlanders exerted early pressure and Ioane put them ahead with a penalty. But it was Fainga'a who crossed for the opening try after a well-organised rolling maul.

A disciplined Highlanders soaked up pressure, but the Brumbies' maul did more damage and Fainga'a bagged his second before the New Zealanders bounced back with Jona Nareki charging down a clearance kick from the restart for their first five-pointer. A late penalty put them 13-12 ahead at the break.

Fainga'a struck again with 12 minutes left and Ryan Lonergan's conversion looked enough for victory.

But as they attempted to run down the clock, they gave away a penalty and ultimately paid a heavy price with Ben-Nicholas' winning try.

In Wellington, the Sharks produced the first try with an 80-metre move that started with an intercept by skipper Lukhayo Am and was finished by Madosh Tambwe.

In a flurry of scoring, Wes Goosen crossed for the 'Canes first, the Sharks responded with a long range try to replacement flyhalf Sanele Nohamba before a Beauden Barrett cross-kick put Ngani Laumape on a 50-metre run to the line.

They turned level at 17-all and the Hurricanes opened up a dominant lead with Lam's twin long-range strikes. Dane Coles scored from a lineout drive to put the Hurricanes ahead 38-17 with the Sharks getting a late consolation try to Mzamo Majola.

"We did score some really good tries -- the likes of Lam, Nans (Laumape) they did their thing -- but the three tries we let in we will be disappointed with," Hurricanes captain TJ Perenara said.

Lachlan Boshier scores a try for the Chiefs during their Super Rugby match against the Sunwolves