In a first half short on tries, the Highlanders have scored the better of the two in the opening stanza of their Super Rugby Aotearoa clash with the Chiefs in Dunedin.
Trailing the visitors 7-0 in the 10th minute, the Highlanders were handed the chance to attack from inside their opponents’ 22 via a lineout.
Co-captain Ash Dixon’s throw was reeled in by veteran lock Bryn Evans, who then landed on the ground to help form a rolling maul about 15 metres from the Chiefs’ tryline.
Flanker and former skipper James Lentjes was on hand to rip the ball away from Evans’ grasp and looked to fling the ball away to fellow loose forward Shannon Frizell, who wrapped around the maul from the blindside to the openside.
The line Frizell ran was designed to draw the Chiefs’ defenders out wide, but what the visitors didn’t anticipate was that the hosts were using the 13-test All Black as a decoy runner.
Instead of actually passing the ball to Frizell, Lentjes dummied before setting off on his own down the short side.
It was in that wide channel near the touchline where Chiefs captain Brad Weber stood when the maul was formed, but Frizell’s decoy line and Lentjes’ dummy fooled the All Blacks halfback, who left his position to chase down after Frizell.
However, by the time he realised he was chasing the wrong man and that Frizell didn’t have the ball, Lentjes had stormed into open space that was made available by Weber’s misread.
That allowed Lentjes and Dixon to create a two-on-one try-scoring opportunity as the pair honed in on the tryline with only Chiefs first-five Kaleb Trask in their way.
With the ball in two hands, Lentjes forced Trask to hold off for as long as possible before opting to crash through the No 10’s defensive effort right on his own tryline.
Not even the scrambling effort of Weber, who backtracked quickly as soon as he realised he’d misread the play, could stop Lentjes from scoring, much to the delight of the home crowd and Highlanders coaches Tony Brown and Clarke Dermody.
Sneaky play from the Landers ?
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) April 10, 2021
The try went unconverted, though, and the Chiefs carried a 10-5 lead into half-time.
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