The Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa action kicked off at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, when the Highlanders hosted the Chiefs in front of a bumper crowd in attendance following the NZ government's easing of Covid-19 restrictions to allow fans to attend major sporting matches. Josh Ioane has been a late withdrawal with a groin injury. Mitch Hunt moved to #10, Vilimoni Koroi moved to fullback and Bryn Gatland came onto the Highlanders' bench.
Unfortunately, the match was the unlucky victim of poor interpretation of the new laws at the breakdown and poor decision-making by the two teams with the Highlanders edging the Chiefs with 28-27. If the new law interpretations used during the Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa was meant to open up the game and make it more "attractive" for the spectators it failed miserably. Maybe unfair to judge the law interpretations after only one match but at this stage, Super Rugby Aotearoa looks a lot like a 45-year-old lady that had some plastic alterations that stood for too long and too close next to the "braai".
The first twenty minutes not surprisingly were full of errors with 7 penalties conceded. The Chiefs initially took control but the Highlanders came back late in the first twenty minutes to lead 8-6 after a try by the forwards.
A late try by one of the stars for the Highlander, eightman Marino Mikaele Tu'u gave the Highlanders a 22-16 lead at the break. Apart from one or two moments of brilliance, the first match of the Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa competition will rather be remembered for the 14 penalties that were conceded. The Highlanders scored 3 tries to 1 with the boot of Damian McKenzie keeping the Chiefs in the game. A disappointing first half with some schoolboy errors being made by both teams while momentum see-sawed with the Highlanders topping and tailing the attacking action.
Three points apiece saw the score 25-19 after the third 20 minutes of the match. The "highlight" of the half, however, was another 8 penalties with the whistle losing its "voice" after 60 minutes of abuse. Admittingly my attention was busy wandering outside to the garden, looking desperately for some work in the mid of winter.
The last twenty minutes again resulted in a penalty fest (30 in total for the match) with the Chiefs throwing everything at the Highlanders during the last 5 minutes of the game. A try by Lienert-Brown and a drop goal by Damian McKenzie gave the Chiefs a slender lead of 27-25. However, a last-minute drop goal by replacement Bryn Gatland gave the Highlanders the first win of the "new" season with 28-27.
Highlanders: Tries: Ash Dickson, Sio Tomkinson, Marino Mikaele Tu'u. Conversions: Mitch Hunt (2). Penalties: Mitch Hunt (2). Drop Goal: Bryn Gatland
Chiefs: Tries: Sean Wainui, Anton Lienert-Brown. Conversion: Damian McKenzie (1). Penalty: Damian Mckenzie (4). Drop goal: Damian McKenzie.