Chiefs set the early standard

Getty Images     23 Feb 2013     Getty Images

Anscombe, usually a first five-eighths, kicked eight from nine and Nanai-Williams, usually a fullback, made his mark in midfield as the defending champions took maximum points from their first game.

They showed more cohesion than the Highlanders and took their opportunities before a crowd of almost 18,000 and pulled away in the last quarter.

Both teams were without several leading players-Andrew Hore, Brad Thorn, Tamati Ellison and Colin Slade for the Highlanders and Richard Kahui, Robbie Robinson, Hika Elliot, Brendon Leonard and Andrew Horrell for the Chiefs.

The Chiefs had won 12 of their previous 19 games against the Highlanders and beaten them 27-21 in Dunedin last year.

They had also had the more impressive pre-season-three wins from three compared to the Highlanders' one win from three.

The teams fielded on a brilliantly sunny evening and fullback Gareth Anscombe opened the scoring after four minutes with a penalty from 41 metres.

Aaron Smith took a quick tap after 12 minutes which caught the Chiefs unaware and fullback Ben Smith stretched out to score by the posts. Lima Sopoaga converted and the Highlanders led 7-3.

But the Chiefs struck back after 15 minutes when centre Tim Nanai-Williams beat Sopoaga and outpaced Ben Smith from a scrum 60 metres out. Anscombe converted well and the Chiefs were ahead 10-7.

They extended that to 13-7 with Anscombe's second penalty when Ma'a Nonu late-tackled Aaron Cruden and his third penalty made it 16-7 after 25 minutes.

Sopoaga missed a penalty from 49 metres and the Highlanders were struggling for precision on attack and defence.

Sam Cane fell awkwardly and left the field after 33 minutes and was replaced by former Tanerau Latimer.

But the Highlanders scored a crucial try just before the break when the backs ran at depth and left wing Hosea Gear cut infield and beat two tackles on his way to the line. Sopoaga converted well from wide out and it was 16-14 at the break.

The Chiefs had had a territorial and possession advantage and, while the Highlanders scored two fine tries, they were possibly lucky to be only two points adrift.

No 8 Nasi Manu was helped off just before halftime with what appeared a bad ankle injury and Elliot Dixon took the field for the second spell, but Cane was back on for the Chiefs.

The Highlanders attacked furiously from the second half kick-off and Sopoaga nudged a penalty from in front and they were in front 17-16.

But the Chiefs responded quickly, moving the ball wide at pace for right wing Patrick Osborne to dive over in the corner. Anscombe was left with the conversion but the Chiefs were ahead again, 21-17.

But the Highlanders regained the lead after eight minutes when Ben Smith counter-attacked and right wing Kade Poki beat at least one tackle and showed the defence a clean pair of heels to score handy to the posts. Sopoaga converted and it was 24-21.

The Highlanders attacked strongly and Sopoaga added his second penalty after 16 minutes to make it 27-21.

The frantic pace of the game continued, left wing Aseali Tikoirotuma flat-footing the defence to score under the posts. Anscombe converted and it was 28-24.

They increased the lead to 35-27 after 25 minutes when John Hardie was unable to take an awkward pass and Nanai-Williams gathered and ran more than 50 metres to score the Chiefs' bonus point try.

Anscombe kicked his fourth penalty, almost from halfway, and the Chiefs led 38-27 with 10 minutes remaining. His fifth penalty after 33 minutes made it 41-27 and made the game safe for the Chiefs.

Highlanders 27 (Ben Smith, Hosea Gear, Kade Poki tries; Lima Sopoaga 3 con, 2 pen) Chiefs 41 (Tim Nanai Williams 2, Patrick Osborne, Asaeli Tikoirotuma tries; Gareth Anscombe 3 con, 5 pen) HT 14-16.