The final instalment of Super Rugby Aotearoa round 6 was played out at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton, with the last-placed Chiefs hosting the hard-working Highlanders in what could be described as a face-saving opportunity for both sides.

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The Highlanders, not a side to be taken lightly despite sitting in 4th position on the ladder, have had their moments against the likes of the Blues and Crusaders, but were yet to display consistently they have the ability to close out a match. Perhaps today was the day to add to their recent domination over the hosts, who have not defeated the men from the south since 2018?

For this encounter Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger welcomed All Black Josh Ioane back to the match day 23 after his injury lay off starting from the bench. Ioane was joined there by the 200 cm Manaaki Selby-Rickit, the son of All Black lock Hud Rickit, who in his playing career represented both Queensland and Waikato.

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The visitors were blown off the park early and went into the sheds 24-7. Yet, true to their hard-working spirit, the Highlanders left it until after the 80th minute to win the match 33-31 with a try to second five Sio Tomkinson. It was a thriller and one that will make Highlanders history.

How the Highlanders rated:

1. Ayden Johnstone – 7/10

When things got tough, he rolled up his sleeves and ensured his side got some basic go-forward to give his side some platform to work off. Was solid in set piece, a fair old shift that would make any front rower proud.

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2. Ash Dixon (cc) – 7.5/10

Never let up even when things were looking ugly early on in the match. Showed his young side the grit required to win at this level and to never quit. Worked hard in tight and made tackles others missed. Such a asset to New Zealand, Hawke’s Bay and Highlanders rugby.

3. Siate Tokolahi – 6.5/10

Had a crack. Solid in set piece, was guilty of the odd infringement, but like his fellow front rowers, he got stuck in when his side were looking for workers establish some momentum.

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4. Pari Pari Parkinson – 6.5/10

Was guilty of being a little high into contact but displayed a work ethic to stay in the contest. Was the go-to man in the lineout and delivered there, yet was guilty of a couple of infringements. Credible effort.

5. Jack Whetton – 5/10

For such a big man, he failed to deliver what his huge frame possibly could. When the Chiefs were really dominating the Highlanders up front, Whetton did not impose himself upon them. Instead appeared to spend more time complaining to referee Mike Fraser. He did not secure that lock position in the absence of the injured Josh Dickson. Needs to be better.

6. Shannon Frizell – 8/10

Commanding performance and a significant contributor to the Highlanders victory. Was causing the Chiefs all kinds of issues down the left edge in the second half, coupled with being a dependable option in the lineout and a fair effort in defence. Frizell did his All Black chances no harm this afternoon.

7. Dillon Hunt – 6/10

A fair performance against a world-class opponent but didn’t dominate the game in any facet.

8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u – 6/10

His ruck defence early on was atrocious. He was caught out of position twice and that contributed to a Chiefs try. Furthermore, in attack he dropped a ball within striking distance of the line costing his side offensive pressure if not a try. He did work his way back into the match with some enterprising attack, and even picked a try, but not his greatest day out.

9. Aaron Smith (cc) – 8.5/10

Simply the best scrum half on the planet. Along with Ash Dixon, Smith kept his side in the match and displayed the grit required to claw back victory when all appeared lost. His own try working off Josh McKay touching the ball twice was pure, pure class. That and his hold up pass allowing Tomkinson to score the winning try were just a joy to watch.

10. Mitch Hunt – 7.5/10

Early in the match the backline was not clicking, but those issues appeared to be more apportioned to the centres. Hunt looked dangerous but really came into his own in the second half when moved to fullback, scoring a wonderful try down in the left edge after running deep from a trigger play. Has a big future with the Highlanders.

11. Scott Gregory – 6.5/10

Very credible performance after a shocker against the Blues several rounds back. Appears to be happier on the left wing as opposed to the right or fullback. Looked to be involved and had several handy involvements.

12. Patelesio Tomkinson – 6.5/10

Had an average start but what a finish

13. Rob Thompson – 4/10

Poor today. Felt for him as he was trying hard but nothing was coming off. Conceded penalties, a yellow card and poor defensive reads don’t equal a good day out. He did make some metres, but even in possession managed a forward pass. I’d expect a player of his quality to bounce back next opportunity.

14. Josh McKay – 7/10

Quality shift. Came looking for work when things were not looking good for the Highlanders. He always looked threatening in possession and was physical in the contact zone. Worked maturely with Aaron Smith to set up one of the better tries scored in this competition.

15. Michael Collins – 8/10

Wonderful game. Never gave up and looked threatening in possession. He worked well with the space afforded him and the play rarely died with him – if anything, he sparked further attack. Moved to the centre role in the second half and looked equally comfortable in that role. He’s a player that one.

Replacements

16. Liam Coltman – 6/.5/10

On in the 57th minute. Dependable performance by such a dependable player.

17. Ethan De Groot – 5/10

On in the 70th minute. Did his job.

18. Jeff Thwaites – 6/10

On in the 53rd minute. Has a bit of game about him and may benefit from a start next week to bring his game on further.

19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit – 5.5/10

On in the 53rd minute. Had a crack but guilty of some silly errors. Should respect the opportunity and opposition more before mouthing off as he appeared to do. Raw, but looks like there is something there to work with.

20. Jesse Parete – 6/10

On in the 53rd minute. Looked to bring some energy and impact and did that.

21.Folau Fakatava – N/A

22. Josh Ioane – 7/10

On the 41st minute and despite some early errors got the Highlanders attacking shape functioning and used his options nicely. Highlanders were such a better side for his presence today.

23. Jona Nareki – 7/10

On in the 70th and scored a try in the 75th and showed some speed and class in doing so. Special talent.

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