Chiefs still unbeaten, Rebels stun 'Tahs
FRIDAY SUPER RUGBY WRAP: The Chiefs made it three from three in 2023 with a 28-7 bonus point win over the Highlanders in Hamilton in the Super Rugby Pacific while Melbourne playmaker Carter Gordon was instrumental in his side’s surprise win over the Waratahs.
Flyhalf Damian McKenzie sent another reminder of his ability to the All Blacks selectors with a hand in all four of his team’s tries and several nice touches on attack and defence.
The Dunedin-based Highlanders now are 0-3 for the season but this was their best performance after a 60-20 loss to the Auckland-based Blues and 52-15 loss to the Christchurch-based Crusaders.
The Highlanders spent much of the first half inside their half but defended extremely well and trailed by only 8-0 at halftime.
Lapses of discipline which gave up a series of penalties and led to a sin-binning played into the Chiefs’ hands in the second half.
The Chiefs took advantage with three more tries including two to winger Shaun Stevenson, his fourth and fifth of the season.
The margin might have been larger but McKenzie was a bit wayward from the kicking tee, with only three goals from seven attempts.
“We came up against a Highlanders side that is pretty desperate,” Chiefs captain Sam Cane said.
“We knew their first two weeks weren’t a true reflection of where they are as a team.
“We expected a real battle and that’s exactly what we go. The first 50 minutes were a real arm wrestle. They defended well and forced us into mistakes. We didn’t quite get enough points on the board for the possession we had.”
McKenzie made his mark early.
As the Chiefs attacked on the open-side in the sixth minute, McKenzie spotted a numerical advantage on a wide blindside, changed the direction of the attack and sent Etene Nanai-Seturo over for the first try.
The Chiefs couldn’t score another try before halftime as the Highlanders continued to repel their attacks and exit well with the help of long kicks from former England flyhalf Freddie Burns, playing at fullback.
The next Chiefs try came in the 51st minute when McKenzie ran an elusive line and Rameka Poihipi handed off a brilliant ball to Stevenson who cut straight through a gap to score.
Five minutes later Alex Nankivell broke down the left flank and McKenzie was there to take his inside pass. When he was stopped Cane and Brad Weber carried the move on before Samipeni Finau scored.
Stevenson’s second came in the 75th minute, this time from McKenzie’s final pass. In between the Highlanders scored through Mosese Dawai.
McKenzie might again be looked at by the All Blacks selectors for a playmaker role with flyhalves Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga both off to play in Japan after this year’s World Cup.
Melbourne Rebels’ Gordon delivered his best Super Rugby Pacific showing to date as his side got one over the NSW Waratahs.
In a see-sawing affair on Friday night at AAMI Park, the Rebels scored five tries to three with Gordon picking up one himself en route to a 34-27 victory.
The Waratahs were coming off a rallying win over Fijian Drua in round two but were out-enthused by a desperate home side, who have now won three straight against NSW in Melbourne.
The visitors had to scramble after three key men were late withdrawals, losing hooker Dave Porecki (infection), winger Max Jorgensen (shoulder) and flanker/lock Ned Hanigan (knee).
The Tahs started strongly but had two tries denied within two minutes with winger Nemani Nadolo edging the sideline as he planted the ball before No.8 Langi Gleeson was ruled to have propelled himself over the line after being tackled.
Feeling luck was on their side, the Rebels rose to the occasion and scored the next three tries.
Centre Reece Hodge crossed off a Lachie Anderson kick into the in-goal and then three minutes later they swapped roles with the fullback managing to ground a Hodge kick as he dived over the sideline.
Melbourne No.8 Richard Hardwick, who has been a stand-out this season, continued his try-scoring spree for the Rebels to go in at halftime up 17-6, with Hodge missing two conversions.
However the Waratahs regrouped at the break and regained the lead 20-17 when Charlie Gamble scored their second try of the half.
With 22-year-old Gordon’s passing first-rate and kicking game en pointe, the Rebels refused to lay down and were back in front with prop Matt Gibbon out-smarting the defence in the 60th minute.
Gordon’s try under the posts four minutes later gave the home side some breathing space.
NSW at least scored a converted try in the 80th minute through lock Taleni Seu to snatch a losing bonus point.
The results and scorers:
Chiefs 28-7 Highlanders
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Nanai-Seturo, Stevenson 2, Finau
Chiefs: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Emoni Narawa, 13 Alex Nankivell, 12 Rameka Poihipi, 11 Etene Nani-Seturo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Luke Jacobson, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 John Ryan, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: Bradley Slater, Ollie Norris, George Dyer, Samipeni Finau, Pita Gus Sowakula, Cortez Ratima, Josh Ioane, Daniel Rona.
Highlanders: 15 Freddie Burns, 14 Martin Bogado, 13 Josh Timu, 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Mosese Dawai, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Hugh Renton, 7 James Lentjes (captain), 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Paripari Parkinson, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: Leni Apisai, Ayden Johnstone, Saula Mau, Fabian Holland, Sean Withy, Kemara Hauiti-Parapara, Fetuli Paea, Connor Garden-Bachop
Assistant referees: Dan Waenga, Mike Winter
Referee: Paul Williams
Melbourne Rebels 34-27 Waratahs
Tries: Hodge, Anderson, Hardwick, Gibbon, Gordon
Cons: Hodge 3
Pens: Hodge 1
Tries: Nawaqnaitawase, Gamble, Seu
Cons: Edmed 3
Pens: Edmed 2
Rebels: 15 Nick Jooste, 14 Lachie Anderson, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Stacey Ili, 11 Monty Ioane, 10 Carter Gordon, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Brad Wilkin (captain), 6 Josh Kemeny, 5 Trevor Hosea, 4 Josh Canham, 3 Cabous Eloff, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 Matt Gibbon
Replacements: Jordan Uelese, Cameron Orr, Pone Fa’amausili, Tuiana Taii Tualima, Vaiolini Ekuasi, James Tuttle, Lukas Ripley, David Feliuai
Waratahs: 15 Ben Donaldson, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Izaia Perese, 12 Lalakai Foketi, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Tane Edmed, 9 Jake Gordon (captain), 8 Langi Gleeson, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Hugh Sinclair, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Archer Holz, 2 Mahe Vailanu,1 Tom Lambert
Replacements: Tolu Latu, Sateki Latu, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Taleni Seu, Will Harris, Charlie Gamble, Teddy Wilson, Ben Dowling
Assistant referees: Reuben Keane, Amber McLachlan
Referee: Angus Gardner