Super Rugby: Highlanders stun Chiefs with incredible comeback

Author
Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 19 Jul 2020, 5:50PM
Patelesio Tomkinson scores the match winning try. (Photo / Photosport)
Patelesio Tomkinson scores the match winning try. (Photo / Photosport)

Super Rugby: Highlanders stun Chiefs with incredible comeback

Author
Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 19 Jul 2020, 5:50PM

Highlanders 33
Chiefs 31

The Highlanders have pulled off a dramatic second-half comeback to stun the Chiefs in Hamilton and leave Warren Gatland's side winless in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Four second-half tries from the Highlanders overturned a 24-7 halftime deficit to inflict the sixth straight defeat on the Chiefs dating back pre-lockdown.

That equals the franchise's record losing run, set in the 2008-09 seasons when All Blacks coach Ian Foster was in charge.

Blowing what seemed a certain victory will only ramp up pressure on Gatland, who surprisingly left Aaron Cruden on the bench for the entire match.

Despite chasing the game from the outset the Highlanders never stopped believing. Patelesio Tomkinson scored a try on fulltime and Mitchell Hunt nailed the match-winning conversion to steal a stunning late upset that never seemed possible until the closing stages.

Hunt and Aaron Smith scored superb second-half tries and a 75th minute strike from Jona Nareki pulled the Highlanders within reach. The Highlanders were then good enough to finish the job to claim their second win of the season.

The Chiefs are likely to take umbrage with Damian McKenzie's disallowed try in the second half that appeared to involve the TMO going back four phases to find an accidental offside.

The locals should, however, have closed this match out, having led 24-0 midway through the first half, and 31-7 early in the second. On a balmy Sunday afternoon the crowd of 10,713 once again departed despondent – their side seemingly incapable of finding a way to win this season.

Three first-half tries – oddly the only time the Chiefs have crossed in the opening half in this competition – left the Highlanders stunned early.

The Chiefs led 24-0 in as many minutes, crossing through Lachlan Boshier, Anton Lienert-Brown and Bradley Slater after some soft Highlanders defence.

The southerners struggled to put phases together in their worst first half performance of the season. They also gave away a string of penalties and conceded the first of Slater's brace while Rob Thompson was in the bin for his high shot on Chiefs lock Tupou Vaa'i.

With his side steering down the barrel of a 24-7 halftime deficit Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger's halftime pep talk clearly hit the right note.

The Highlanders were a different beast in the second spell and Josh Ioane's introduction off the bench – in his first match in this competition after returning from a groin injury – made a big impact on their attacking shape.

The win improves the Highlanders' record to 3-2 while the Chiefs remain rooted at the bottom of the table.

Highlanders 33 (Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Mitchell Hunt, Aaron Smith, Jona Nareki, Patelesio Tomkinson tries; Hunt 4 cons)
Chiefs 31 (Bradley Slater 2, Lachlan Boshier, Anton Lienert-Brown tries; Damian McKenzie 4 cons, pen)
HT: 7-24