Mitch Hunt was a prominent figure in the Highlanders’ shock win over the Crusaders last weekend, but the first five couldn’t weave the same kind of magic against the Chiefs on Saturday night.
While the former Crusaders was reliable on attack, chalking up 70 metres with the ball in hand, he also left a considerable number of points on the field through missed shots at goal.
The signs weren’t great early on, with Hunt missing his first penalty attempt – a relatively straightforward effort from in front – in the second minute of the match.
He missed two further shots in the first half, ultimately leaving eight points unconverted.
While the Highlanders went into the break five points short of the visiting Chiefs, they could have been 13-10 up if Hunt’s radar had been on song.
Things didn’t get much better in the second half, with Hunt missing his first attempt on the posts following an early Aaron Smith try.
It wasn’t until the 53rd minute of the match that the Highlanders No 10 was able to land his first successful kick, nailing a fairly regulation shot – and it was to be Hunt’s last attempt of the night with one-test All Black Josh Ioane then joining the fray and taking over the kicking duties.
Highlanders coach Tony Brown lamented the missed opportunities after the match but suggested there were plenty more areas where his team needed to improve.
“[It was] poor from the boys,” he said. “But sometimes you have those days. Mitch kicked everything last week and missed everything tonight.
“We just didn’t quite play at the right intensity, we were soft in a few areas of the game, we just didn’t quite play as well as we did last week. We couldn’t prepare ourselves to reach that same intensity, which meant that our game suffered.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 11, 2021
Hunt wasn’t the only player to struggle off the tee, however.
Damian McKenzie, one of the more accurate kickers in New Zealand rugby, also had his fair share of misses, landing six of his nine attempts.
Admittedly, two of those kicks were taken from the 50-metre line. Your Jordie Barretts and David Havilis may not struggle with such lengthy shots, but it proved slightly beyond McKenzie’s abilities – although he still had the distance in him.
Played under the roof, there was little wind or weather conditions to contend with, making the poor kicking showing all the more perplexing.
In some ways, it was reminiscent of the 2011 Rugby World Cup when the likes of Martin Rodriguez and Jonny Wilkinson struggled under the roof in England’s narrow victory over Argentina. The two normally reliable kickers missed five penalty attempts each, with England eventually prevailing 13-9.
A week later, Toby Flood had no issues kicking in Dunedin but Georgia’s Merab Kvirikashvili had a case of the yips, landing just one of his six penalty attempts.
Romania’s D?nu? Dumbrav? was the unlucky man the following week, knocking over just one of his four kicks.
Come the end of the tournament, just eight penalty attempts were landed at Forsyth Barr Stadium from 26 attempts.
The kickers weren’t quite as poor as that on Saturday night, but the game would have unfurled completely differently if either Hunt or McKenzie had better accuracy on the night.
Ultimately, the Chiefs won by just three points, after McKenzie nailed a penalty in extra time to secure the game.
The victory keeps the Chiefs in the hunt for a finals spot while the Highlanders are now all but out of the reckoning.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now