Highlanders fall short in Hamilton

Getty Images     23 Mar 2013     Getty Images

It was always going to be a tough ask for Dave Rennie's men who were noticeably flat coming off a two-week safari in South Africa. But the gap in class became apparent as Tim Nanai-Williams made the visitors pay for an early mistake with his third try of the season.

Not for the first time this season, the boot of Gareth Anscombe proved the difference for the defending champions.

His 14-point haul negated a first-half try to Aaron Smith and ensured there was enough on the scoreboard to hold on for a tough win and climb six points clear atop the New Zealand conference.

It was a sobering moment for the southern men, who slumped to their fourth consecutive loss and remain firmly at last place in the overall standings.

They showed enormous enthusiasm but ruined what would have been a feel good story with a number of costly errors. Even with the return of Ma'a Nonu their attack lacked any real sting.

Looking to exploit the jet-lagged Chiefs, Jamie Joseph's men came out with all guns blazing, playing with high intensity and speed.

But with so much risk involved in their swooping passing plays, it only took one basic error from Josh Bekhuis for the Chiefs to get their first sniff of an opportunity to strike.

And strike they did. Nanai-Williams scooped up the bouncing ball then sprinted 60 metres to the score to the right of the posts.

Anscombe added to his earlier penalty with the difficult conversion for a 10-0 lead.

Surprisingly, after a quarter of play it was the visitors who had made all the running (87 percent possession). To make matters worse they had a number of chances to hit back but could not convert them into points.

Twice the Highlanders were held up in goal, while a perfect overlap was not capitalised on when Asaeli Tikoirotuma was allowed to disrupt the pass.

However, the Chiefs did eventually crack under the pressure, which they continuously invited by deciding not to kick from within their own 22.

Working from a scrum five metres out, a cleverly devised run down the blindside saw Smith sneak over the chalk for a converted try.

Before the break Anscombe landed another blow with his second penalty of the night.

His 100 percent kicking record would have been marvelled at by Colin Slade, who started his third game back from a lengthy injury break with a pair of failed penalty shots at goal.

Early in the second half, Slade was in position to put his team in front when he cleverly intercepted a pass on halfway. But it was not to be as referee Jonathan White stopped play for an earlier infringement.

The 10-Test All Black was in the thick of it once again when he sprinted back to field a kick that would have otherwise produced certain try to Liam Messam.

Pinned on their line, the Highlanders then dodged another bullet when Andrew Horrell's attempt to score fell inches short of the line.

That's as close as the 14,823 Waikato Stadium faithful came to celebrating another try as Anscombe added two further penalties to close out the match.

Chiefs: 19
Tries: Nanai-Williams
Cons: Anscombe
Pens: Anscombe 4

Highlanders: 7
Tries: Smith
Cons: Slade

HT: 13-7