The Chiefs approached their first match of the Super Rugby year staring down a losing streak of nine matches. They had five debutantes in the match day squad and apart from the All Black captain Sam Cane, the pack had an untried look about it.

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The Highlanders were coming off their loss against Crusaders last week and posed a surprise selection with Folau Fakatava garnering a start and leaving Aaron Smith on the bench.

The Chiefs got some real momentum early on with some confidence building attacks and two Highlanders yellow cards. After 30 minutes they were 20-6 ahead and Ash Dixon was sitting on the naughty chair; the Chiefs were in the driving seat. The brilliance of Jonah Nareki and crucial defensive errors from leading players Sam Cane, Brad Weber and Anton Lienert-Brown saw the Highlanders surge back for a 39-23 victory.

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Here’re the Chiefs’ ratings

1. Reuben O’Neill – 6

Powered a solid scrum in the first half that led to some dominant play for his team. Early in the second half on a carry got bested by Frizell which saw him post negative metres. A bit embarrassing.

2. Samisoni Taukei’aho – 7

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Aggressive first tackle on Ash Dixon to announce his presence. Dynamic, powerful player around the park. Last season he had some problems at the lineout but he’s obviously spent some summer evenings practising lineout throws, perhaps that’s why he got the starting spot back.

3. Sione Mafileo – 6.5

Strong rampage on attack after 12. Anchored a firm scrum. Off at 48.

4. Tupou Vaa’i – 6

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Dropped a ball in attack in 7th minute but heads up play around the ruck moments later for a steal. Is very good around the field and his aerial play is inspiring; he took virtually all of the Chiefs’ lineout ball. Would love to see him have a season with a veteran like Retallick but he has been inserted as the senior lock at the franchise early in his career. Could make or break him.

5. Naitoa Ah Kuoi – 5.5

Was penalised twice and was overshadowed and out-passioned by his opposites, especially Regan. Decent tackle count and good accuracy on defence. Off at 62.

6. Samipeni Finau – 7.5

Was a great surprise package and is definitely one for the future. Good couple of runs and some strong defence and with every good 6, he has the ability to pop up at the right place at the right time. Right up Jacobson’s bum to tandem him over for try and got back in cover in the 52 minute to snuff out a Highlanders attack. Took the most of his opportunity.

7. Sam Cane – 6.5

Got the perfect start to do the limpet and win the first penalty and 3 points. Top tackler in the match, most of them venomous. He will however be spewing that he missed Nareki with Vaa’i in the lead up to Frizell’s try. Penalised at the 68th minute in the scrum and you could tell in the postmatch interview he took the loss badly.

8. Luke Jacobson – 6.5

Not the best start as he was penalised after 3 minutes after not supporting his body weight. Had a golden period at the end of the first quarter as he smashed over for a try from a few metres out in 23rd and then four minutes later got another storming carry. Came off the boil in the 2nd half as the Chiefs wilted, culminating in the 75th minute with a miss on the slippery Nareki.

9. Brad Weber – 6

Small signs that Weber has returned with some of his 2019 zip at the base. Almost carried for 100 metres and was game, if not wildly successful in defence. Missed four tackles with most of them bump offs but the most glaring was when he got sucked in by his opposite Fakatava for the snipe that closed the gap to 2 points 20-18 early in the second half. Off at 71.

10. Bryn Gatland – 5

Is there for some solidity and he has some good basic skills and a trait for taking good options. Some highlights, a good clearance kick at 16 minutes and came across well to help Dmac in defence in the 17th minute to save a try. Some good support and a crucial clean out but the fluffing of an awful pass from McKenzie on the 55 minute mark may be what fans and selectors remember. Off at 60.

11. Etene Nanai-Seturo – 8

Was the Chiefs best player but couldn’t match the magical Nareki. His footwork combined with power makes him a very tough man to tag. He would have had his heart in his mouth when his shoulder made contact with a leaping Garden-Bachop. Sensible decision by the ref though. Etene’s panther like performance made me think of what we could see when Roger Tuivasa-Sheck gets into a 15s jersey.

12. Anton Lienert-Brown – 6

He’s a classy player when he’s linking into space. A great brutish run in lead up to Jacobson’s try. Then the slick pass when he combined again with his 8 mate to put him into space. Just tried too hard in the last quarter when missed Nareki on his way to his 2nd try and then the knock on from a kick off take.

13. Sean Wainui – 5

Miscalculated a kick off receipt to let it go and put his team under pressure. Needs to work on his distribution skills if he wants to keep the 13 jersey, there was a noticeable improvement when Nankivell came into the midfield.

14. Jonah Lowe – 7

A typical Jonah Lowe performance, he was like a sheep dog chasing all day. Forced Nareki’s only error with a charge down in the 11th minute from a kick off. Good work in the 19th minute with a high ball kick chase. Up on the rush defence to close down Punivai in the 24th minute and then a few minutes later a good chase on Nareki after giving up a six meter start but could not stop the try. Off at 55.

15. Damian McKenzie – 7

Whenever he joins the line on attack there seems to be more opportunities. Great cover tackle to bundle Nareki out in the 17th minute. Skilful collection from behind him to find himself in open space to get his team’s 2nd try. Ended the first half with a brilliant chip and chase and looked reasonably good when he moved up to 10.

Reserves:

16. Bradley Slater – 5

On at 58 and seems to have got the off-the-bench lineout yips that his team mate had last year.

17. Ollie Norris – 6.5

On at on 58. Forced a scrum penalty at 63 minutes and is a very good athlete around the paddock.

18. Angus Ta’avao – 5.5

On at 48. Had the scrum penalty at 63 minutes then a couple against them for not scrumming straight. Is obviously a good leader to have come off the bench but failed to make a difference this week.

19. Mitch Brown – 5

On at 62 and penalised for a leading forearm that snuffed out a try chance.

20. Mitch Karpik – 6

On at 55. A little knock on at the 60th minute on attack but some good defence.

21. Xavier Roe – 5.5

On at 71. Couldn’t get the dancing feet going with limited chances.

22. Alex Nankivell – 6

On 55. Has some good vision and took some good options on attack.

23. Shaun Stevenson – NA

On at 60.

Super Rugby Aotearoa is available to watch live and on-demand on RugbyPass for subscribers in the UK, Ireland, France, Singapore and many more territories across the world who hold a tournament pass.

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