The Chiefs put together consecutive wins for the first time this season as they stepped up a gear to beat the Highlanders 39-24.
Foxsports correspondents in Dunedin report that backing up from their victorious six-try performance against the Northern Bulls a week ago, the traditional Super 14 slow-starters added another six touchdowns against the Highlanders to again take maximum points.
It was the Chiefs fourth win from seven matches but was still not convincing enough to suggest they could work their way up to play-off contention.
The Highlanders, meanwhile, remain winless at the bottom of the table but again managed a bonus point with four tries.
Despite the size of the scoreline it was not all one-way traffic for the home side, who rushed to a 22-0 lead inside 25 minutes.
The Highlanders rallied with two late tries in the first half to trail 12-22 at the turn, and further narrowed the gap to 19-27 midway through the second half.
But a lack of cohesion and repeated handling lapses meant too many opportunities were wasted.
The Chiefs were up 10-0 after eight minutes as straight, strong, running from midfield backs Callum Bruce and Richard Kahui put the Highlanders defence under extreme pressure.
With territory favouring the Chiefs, they opened the scoring with a penalty by Stephen Donald, who ended the match with 14 points, and a try to Brendon Leonard, who was again a decisive influence with his sniping around the ruck.
A chip kick by Bruce saw Liam Messam out run Craig Newby to score while a blindside scrum move saw Sione Lauaki and Leonard split the defence to send Leila Masaga over to have the Chiefs up 22-0.
But in the final 10 minutes of the half the Highlanders came back with two tries. The first came when stand out midfield back Johnny Leota found a gap to send Fetu’u Vainikolo over, and then big lock Hoani MacDonald galloped 22 metres down the touchline to score wide out.
The Chiefs became the first side this year to score four tries against the Highlanders when Masaga toed the ball over the line to score a minute into the second half.
Against the run of play, and down to 14-men when Jamie MacKintosh was sinbinned, the Highlanders struck back when a 50-metre run by Vainikolo ended with MacDonald’s second try, which Bowden converted.
But their fightback was soon eroded as Donald scored and converted his own try and then Mils Muliaina crossed wide out to extend the Chiefs’ lead to 39-19 before replacement Mike Delany scored on full-time for the Highlanders.
“We’re pretty stoked with this win,” Chiefs captain Muliaina said.
“We had a bit of a lapse in the first half but we’re pretty happy with the win. I thought our forwards played well tonight and we had a couple of moments of individual brilliance in the backs as well.”
Highlanders skipper Craig Newby said handling errors proved his side’s downfall.
“To score four tries was a positive,” Newby said.
“Our game plan was to play it tight and avoid too many turnovers … but unfortunately we had a case of butter fingers and they capitalised on our mistakes.
“The pressure that we’re under at this level is what creates mistakes.
“We’ve got a reasonably inexperienced side and when some of the more experienced guys start making mistakes that sort of compounds them.”Tweet