No measure of Chiefs' heart

Getty Images     23 Mar 2013     Getty Images

Accumulate enough of those inches going forward with ball in hand and it's more than likely that you'll get the desired result.

By that logic, the Highlanders should have walked out of Waikato Stadium as comfortable winners on Friday night.

Ahead in every key facet of the game, albeit for half the contest, including running metres, possession and territory, they dominated a weary Chiefs outfit - on tired legs after a two-week tour of South Africa.

But as Jamie Joseph's men would soon learn, there are some things which are just as crucial to winning rugby games but can't be measured; it's what the Chiefs like to call 'mana'.

It's the will and determination they showed plenty of for 80 minutes, after which they extended their lead at the top of the New Zealand conference to six points with the 19-7 win.

With a meagre 38 percent of possession in the first half, the Chiefs were forced to make 47 more tackles (83), defend in their 22 for nine minutes and were pegged back by seven penalties.

Having endured an unrelenting Highlanders assault for 40 minutes, the half-time oranges would have been that little bit sweeter knowing they escaped with a six-point lead.

"It was pretty gutsy, we played a lot of the game without the ball," said Chiefs coach Dave Rennie.

"We hung in there. The boys were pretty desperate defensively.

"The boys are pretty knackered; a couple of them said they were pretty knackered going into the game so it was pretty gutsy."

The Highlanders did all that was asked of them. Coach Joseph expected his side would outlast their jet-lagged opponents and devised a fast-paced game plan accordingly.

"The Highlanders had a plan to play quick and run us around and they did," added Rennie.

However, it was hardly effective as the Chiefs used every last ounce of energy to go the extra mile and diffuse numerous raids.

A well-timed tackle denied Jason Emery a crucial try while one was created for Tim Nanai-Williams when Josh Bekhuis had the ball jolted from his grasp.

After that, a leaping charge down had the Highlanders pinned on their line, and one last collective effort to counter-ruck for a turnover ended the game and the Highlanders chance of a bonus point.

Rennie will sleep easier knowing his troops have taken it upon themselves to do the little things required to ensure a bigger goal is achieved later in the season.

On Monday he'll start contemplating where to best use the fit-again Richard Kahui in his backline.

Returning from a lengthy shoulder injury, the World Cup-winning All Black has the 'potential to start' against the Blues in Tauranga next week.

It's just what the Chiefs need to combat the powerful midfield of Francis Saili and Rene Ranger.

"With Richard coming on - he's twice the size of our other backs - so there was a bit of go-forward and we got things going on around him," added Rennie.

"It's pretty exciting to have him back."

Meanwhile, Joseph will mull over a winless record after four games this season.

His job road only gets tougher when the Highlanders host the reds before heading to Eden Park a week later.

A hamstring injury to All Black prop Tony Woodcock only added to the growing list of concerns.

Andrew Hore, injured during last week's loss to the Hurricanes, was sorely missed at line-out time as the Chiefs stole possession on four occasions.

Colin Slade certainly didn't help his side's chances by missing all three of his penalty shots at goal.

Still, Joseph felt that the 'bounce of the bal' could have benefited his side a little more than it did.

"I saw a gallant effort from our side. I didn't see a lot of luck go our way," he said.

"I thought we put a lot of pressure on that team but we weren't able to convert that into points.

"There were just a lot of decisions that just didn't go our way.

"I guess if we go the decisions that didn't go our way, things would have been different."

Turning the season around will truly be an arduous task, but it's a goal that the Highlanders believe is not out of their reach just yet.

"Is this the end of our season? Of course not," insisted Joseph.

"There's a lot of integrity in our team."