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'It works': What the Highlanders proved in comeback versus Chiefs

By Ben Smith
Timoci Tavatavanawai of the Highlanders is tackled during the round five Super Rugby Pacific match between Chiefs and Highlanders at FMG Stadium Waikato, on March 23, 2024, in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

The Highlanders winless streak against New Zealand teams continued with a 28-21 loss to the Chiefs but a brave fightback has proved that they are on the right track.


The Chiefs looked to be in cruise control when a try from a kick return to Cortez Ratima gave the home side a 28-0 lead with 25 minutes remaining.

But a furious rally with three tries, including two in the last 10 minutes, gave the Highlanders a golden chance to at least tie the match.

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Highlanders captain Billy Harmon said the comeback “proves” that the high-possession game they want to play will work.

“We gave ourselves a chance,” Highlanders captain Billy Harmon told Sky Sport NZ.

“But we just weren’t quite accurate in some plays. We let a lot of ball go, dropped a lot of ball, but we proved our shape works.

“It creates for us, now we just need to get better at finishing it off.”

Harmon’s reference to the possession-based rugby the Highlanders use resulted in 192 carries compared to just 66 for the Chiefs.

In the wet conditions Harmon led with 30 carries, second five-eighth Sam Gilbert finished with 26, and growing lock Fabian Holland logged 20.


As a result they finished with 66 per cent possession and 62 per cent territory but a total of 23 turnovers lost cost the side.

Chiefs captain Luke Jacobson, who was sin binned during the second half, wasn’t surprised the Highlanders were able to give them a fright.

“As we knew, the Highlanders are a gritty team and they were right back in there,” Jacobson said.

“Probably didn’t start the way we’d like and probably our own worst enemy there at times. Our discipline and ball skill execution.


“Credit to Landers they really played, they’ve got some X-factor players and they put us under pressure.”



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1 Comment
monty 120 days ago

What a game it turned out to be. From the arm chair it was flair and accuracyfrom the cheifs to on the edge of it for the last 20 hilanders were well in it. There’s some fantastic choices evolving for abs selection - brilliant game.

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Wonton 5 hours ago
Why Scott Robertson may need to ease big names aside for All Blacks' flexibility

One game against Fiji is not enough to show that a player is ready to play the likes of South Africa. Spreading the ball wide too much increases the risk of turnovers and we turned the ball over 20 times against Fiji which is a lot more than what we did in the two England tests. We actually turned the ball over the same amount of times (20) against England in the 2019 semi final which we lost. Fiji didn’t make us pay for those turnovers but other teams will. In the 2nd test against England this year we had 100% success rate on attacking rucks. That’s the first time the AB’s have achieved this since the 2019 opening game of the RWC against South Africa. South Africa won last years RWC and Jesse Kriel did not pass once. The days of the Conrad Smith type centre might be over. Also Conrad Smith debuted in 2004 but he did not become an incumbent until Nonu did also in 2008. As for Rieko Ioane he and Jordie Barrett put in some very strong midfield hits in the 2nd test forcing turnovers several times. Rieko Ioane hasn’t played wing in years. If Proctor is moved to 13 then the best I think Ioane can hope for is an impact player off the bench. He does not have the aerial game of Caleb Clarke or the workrate of Tele’a for 11 and going to be selected over Jordan at 14. However its much too early to replace Rieko with Proctor. Rieko was excellent in the knock out rounds of the RWC. All Proctor has to show on his test CV is a good game against Fiji.

22 Go to comments
Nick 6 hours ago
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Its almost like you read my comment on the other site on sunday morning Nick - you flagged all the same examples! 😝 Frost was motm for mine. That eg in the 56th minute in particular impressed me, nothing but sheer effort and a dupont/smith-like tracking line behind the D. Surely an effort like that from frost marries perfectly with that quote from schmidt at the start of the year about effort and work rate being 70-80% and talent is just the icing on top… What it also showed though was the players not making that effort, in that example he goes past both valetini and ikitau, and in the eg that finished with valetini scoring hunter paisami barely breaks a canter to support the break. And then there was the chase from wright and lancaster for the 2nd georgian try! One blemish - at kickoff I saw frost miss or get bumped off a few tackles and I felt like I saw what has been holding his selection back. I think because he is so big and is trying to get low to tackle, he seems to dip his head and ends up losing his balance or ability to adjust and ends up missing or making a soft hit. I think in the first 2 minutes he misses or makes 2-3 soft tackles, but you could clearly see the work rate and desire! He (the pod) also missed a kick restart or two? Also very happy to see harry wilson back in the fold. What impressed me from him wasn’t all the usual stuff he is known for, but all the other bits that usually let him down. He looked surprisingly good in the air at lineout time, physical at the breakdown, and good in the maul peeling off 3 georgians for one of the maul tries. Id have frost, skelton, wright as my 4-6 with LSL and wilson on the bench. i’m once again unconvinced by tom wirght - he was very good game 1, but game 2-3 he was back to more rocks than diamonds. There is no real other player to usurp him really so he stays in the team for now but I think Joe should put kellaway wherever he serves the team best and wright can be moved around him. Did donno do enough to overtake noah? My gut says no. They clearly had a plan to attack more so he looked better in that regard because he just had more opportunity, but they looked better off tate (who had a v good game also) then they did off donno.

17 Go to comments
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