22,000 Ready To Rock At FMG Stadium For Local Derby

Everyone loves a local New Zealand derby, and for the winner of the Chiefs vs Highlanders clash tonight, there is a big statement to make by doing so.

With three close losses so far this season, the Highlanders are yet to convince that they are capable of claiming back-to-back Super Rugby titles despite having arguably the strongest line up on paper to do so.

The return of Waisake Naholo will complete the Highlanders back line, and with the likes of Malakai Fekitoa, Ben Smith, and Patrick Osborne alongside, the backs have the power to steamroll their way through the Chiefs defense, but they can only do this with plenty of ball in hand.

Kicking possession to the Chiefs back three should result in the Chiefs getting good go forward.

The only way the Highlanders can win this game is to throw everything they have at the Chiefs with ball in hand, take risks, and kick the all important penalty goals that will come a plenty. Continue reading 22,000 Ready To Rock At FMG Stadium For Local Derby

Naholo brilliance helps end Chiefs season

The 2015 Super Rugby is over for the Chiefs after losing to the Highlanders 24-14 in Dunedin tonight.

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The Highlanders were as elusive as ever with ball in hand, scoring two tries both by the brilliant skill of Waisake Naholo who is now surely one of the leading candidates to be announced in the All Blacks squad tomorrow.

Aaron Smith proved that he is undoubtedly the best halfback in the world tonight.

Smith played a key part in both tries, using his speed and vision to fool the Chiefs defenders who couldn’t put a hand on him all night.

Handling errors haunted the Chiefs, dropping the ball at key moments coupled with crucial misses on goal by Andrew Horrell who coughed up a potential six points in the first half.

Brodie Retallick refused to let his side die, powering over the line late in the game, but the final few build-up plays failed, two ending in handling errors, and one when Seta Tamanivalu was penalised in the ruck, effectively ending the Chiefs chances of levelling the scores with a minute to play.

When the Highlanders were awarded a penalty on the full-time hooter, Lima Sopoaga slotted the kick to send the Highlanders to their first semi final in 19 years.

Waisake Naholo is certainly New Zealand’s next All Black, he shut down the Chiefs defense each time he had the ball, and he performed in the big playoff game with the season on the line, something the All Black selectors would have noticed.

Naholo is now the top try scorer for Highlanders in a single season.

The Highlanders will play either the Hurricanes or the Waratahs next week as the playoffs continue.

Unsettled backline must perform for Chiefs in playoff

The Chiefs head into Forsyth Barr with a backline that has been compromised due to injury.

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It isn’t a big surprise that Andrew Horrell was selected to start for the Chiefs playoff game against the Highlanders, for his experience more than anything.

Horrell has put up average performances this season so far, and his kicking game must improve as it will be crucial in a playoff match.

So far in 2015, Horrell is kicking at a penalty success rate of 42%.

Damian McKenzie slots into fullback once again – a decision that had many Chiefs fans scratching their heads.

Tim Nanai Williams will start at centre alongside cousin Sonny Bill Williams, the first time the two have been paired together in 2015, and no doubt much work on communication was had during the week.

Sonny Bill must find form against the Highlanders tonight – he has looked a shadow of his former self so far in 2015.

In many ways, the Chiefs backline is the most unbalanced it has been all year, but injuries have seen the likes of Tom Marshall and Charlie Ngatai sidelined.

Seta Tamanivalu hasn’t been seen in the Chiefs side for weeks but returns tonight and covers the bench. It is likely that Anton Lienert-Brown would have been in the mix but is unavailable due to his NZ U-20 commitments in Italy.

Michael Leitch also starts off the bench tonight and Liamessam will slot into the No. 8 role.

Lima Sopoaga’s brilliance by the numbers

If there is one standout player in Super Rugby this year, it is Highlanders first five Lima Sopoaga.

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Sopoaga showed flashes of brilliance with Southland last year in the ITM Cup.

With 140 points under his belt in Super Rugby so far, Sopoaga is inside the top five of the competitions leading points scorers and has a success rate of 74% with the boot.

Sopoaga has missed an equal 9 kicks in penalties and conversions respectively.

On defense, Sopoaga is averaging an 81% tackling success rate.

The only concern for Sopoaga’s game is his turnover rate, but it doesn’t rate any higher than most other first fives in Super Rugby this year.

Already in the discussion for All Black selection, Sopoaga will deserve his shot in the international game if he gets it.

The Highlanders will play the Hurricanes tonight.

TMO not to blame for lifeless Chiefs thrashing

After being thumped by the Highlanders, the Chiefs suddenly look like a side destined to fall short at Super Rugby’s business end.

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Damian McKenzie should have been awarded a try, but once again a controversial TMO decision halted the Chiefs only real attacking opportunity on the try line that the night had to offer.

There is no denying that questions surrounding the performance against the Highlanders have to be asked.

Saturday night was the worst peformance of the season – bar none.

Ball handling was terrible, lack of structure with attacking ball, and a controversial TMO decision was the story of the night for the Chiefs.

The Chiefs didn’t score a try – the only points came from the boot of Damian McKenzie.

The Highlanders however played with relative ease.

The men from the south ran in tries at will, earning a convincing bonus point victory and moving ahead of the Chiefs in the Super Rugby table.

The Chiefs as a side looked completely unbalanced.

The swapping of positions between the McKenzie brothers will be speculated, especially given that Damian McKenzie seemed to have locked in the starting first-five role only to be moved again heading into the most important game of the season.

Augustine Pulu didn’t repeat his heroics from Rotorua, and impactful players like Anton Lienert-Brown, Bryce Heem, and Hosea Gear were taken completely out of the game by a Highlanders side who were superior from kickoff.

Looking at the match, it is hard to say that the likes of Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, or even Sonny Bill Williams would have had anymore of an impact on the result either.

The Chiefs have been hit hard by injuries, but the depth of the reserves has proved itself. There is the talent to win this competition still – but it is fleeting quickly.

The Chiefs are still going to be there or thereabouts come playoffs time, but there is a lot of uncertainty over the side that many called favorites prior to the season beginning back in February.

The Chiefs next game is against the Reds in Brisbane.

Chiefs penalties hand Highlanders late victory

The three-game winning run is over for the Chiefs after two late penalties gave the Highlanders an unlikely victory in Hamilton.

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It was a match where two penalty tries were awarded – to the losing side.

The Chiefs made nine handling errors and missed two penalty attempts in the first half, by far their scrappiest opening to a match this season.

James Lowe broke through the Highlanders defense after a great set play execution, but as the Highlanders defense closed in around him, the Tasman native spilled the ball when it was likely he would have powered over the line in the tackle.

Needless penalties gave the Highlanders many opportunities for points despite not being in Chiefs territory for much of the first half.

Lima Sopoaga kicked nine points from penalties.

The Chiefs had another opportunity to score with numbers on the left and James Lowe free, but Augustine Pulu chose to not pass the ball, took the ball into contact and lost possession moments later.

Another Chiefs handling error deep in Highlanders territory left a gap for Ben Smith to run through, leading to a brilliant try by Patrick Osborne in the corner after the winger stepped past several Chiefs defenders to hand the Highlanders a good lead.

On the halftime buzzer, Lima Sogoaga kicked a penalty to send the Highlanders into the sheds leading 14 – 3.

The Highlanders looked like a different side in the second stanza.

All the discipline from the Highlanders went out the window completely after halftime.

It all started with the sinbinning of Highlanders lock Joe Wheeler.

Penalties mounted at a quick rate before referee Nick Briant had seen enough and awarded the Chiefs a penalty try.

In a shock turn of events, the Chiefs were awarded another penalty try and suddenly snuck into the lead 17 – 14.

Aaron Cruden kicked three of his six attempts on goal during the match but missed a crucial kick from directly in front of the posts late in the game.

It was an easy opportunity on goal which would have seen the Chiefs go out to a six-point lead.

When Andrew Horrell tried to lengthen the margin but found the posts, the Highlanders suddenly came back to life, and the Chiefs imploded.

Two penalties goals to Marty Banks in the last four minutes saw the Highlanders snatch victory from the Chiefs on the fulltime buzzer.

The Highlanders snatched victory from the Chiefs 17 – 20 at Waikato Stadium.

The Chiefs were forced to make a late change prior to the game when in-form centre Charlie Ngatai went down with an injury.

Ngatai was replaced by Andrew Horrell, and Tim Nani Williams returned to cover the bench.