Chiefs back on track with two-point win over the Highlanders.
It took a late try for the Waikato Chiefs to resume normal service in the Super 15 New Zealand conference Saturday when the defending champions snatched a 21-19 victory over the Otago Highlanders.
Charlie Ngatai scored in the corner at Waikato Stadium with 11 minutes remaining to put the Chiefs back at the head of the pack, replacing the Highlanders who had led after a surprise bonus-point win over the Auckland Blues last week.
But there will be serious questions asked in the Chiefs camp as they struggled for possession and trailed 7-16 at half-time against a side with a reputation as the weakest New Zealand franchise.
Although the Chiefs led briefly in the first half it took until the second spell before they were able to gain a measure of control against a side containing mainly unknowns at Super rugby level.
Even then, as they started to get an even share of possession and territory, they still struggled to breach the Highlanders’ defence.
Three penalties and a conversion by Lima Sopoaga coupled with a try to John Hardie from a line-out drive gave the Highlanders command in the first half after the Chiefs scored early with a try to Tim Nanai-Williams converted by Aaron Cruden.
The Chiefs narrowed the gap to two points soon after the resumption when they wore down the Highlanders’ defence with a series of close drives at the line which culminated in a try to Liam Messam, again converted by Cruden.
Yet the Highlanders would not lie down. A solo burst by hooker Liam Coltman took the visitors deep into Chiefs territory where Sopoaga landed his fourth penalty to take them to a 19-14 lead.
However, their hopes of staying in front were dashed when replacement loose forward Liam Squire, making his Super rugby debut, led the Chiefs deep into Highlanders territory where Cruden chipped into the right corner for Ngatai to score the match-winning try.