1 July, 2018, 1:42 pm
THE Laucala Bay easterlies blew some changes in the Super Rugby New Zealand Conference table after the Gallagher Chiefs club the Pulse Energy Highlanders to a 45-22 bonus point win at the packed ANZ Stadium in Suva last night.
The much celebrated debut of Waisake Naholo’s Highlanders in Suva soil took a twist as the Colin Cooper-coached and Sam Cane-captained Chiefs dashed to a six try 42-0 at halftime.
It was like a rugby match between boys and men as the Chiefs, with the win behind them, sent fullback Solomon Alaimalo under the sticks a minute and 36 seconds from the first whistle.
All Black Damian McKenzie, the Fijians’ darling for the night because he smiled before all his successful conversions, was on target with six conversions and a penalty.
For the hosts, they failed to recover from the shock start as Chiefs skipper Cane led his side to another two tries in the first quarter for 21-0 and three more to go into to the break 42-0 Highlanders.
The Chiefs dominated the first half and veterans such as Liam Messam led well from at N0.8 with McKenzie splitting the Suva skies with his spot on kicks.
The win allowed the Chiefs to relegate the Highlanders to fourth position in NZ.
The Aaron Mauger-coached hosts hit back with four second half tries, one was disallowed.
Highlanders co-captain Ben Smith admitted that his men failed to wake up from the shock start.
“We let ourselves too much to do and the Chiefs played very well,” Smith said.
“We cannot give a lot to a team like the Chiefs the head start. There was a bit of wind and we knew they took it. We will not give any excuses because we were in the same conditions, but they played a bit more footy on that wind in the first half than we did in the second half. They deserved the win.”
His coach Aaron Mauger said: “The boys did really proudly in the second 40 minutes when they attacked and got us back into contest. The Chiefs were very good in the physical battle. They dominated the tackles, the game line, they beat us at the scrums and the fundamentals of the game so they deserved the win.”
Former Fiji rep and a Chiefs assistant coach Tabai Matson thanked the team for the win.
“The win got our campaign back on track because it was a critical game for us because where we sat on the New Zealand Conference. It was great to get four points,” he said.
Centre Charlie Ngatai added: “Highlanders is a great side and any new Zealand team to come out at 42 points in the first half is a massive shift.”
Chiefs 45 (Solomon Alaimalo, Toni Pulu 2, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Luke Jacobson, Sean Wainui tries; Damian McKenzie 6 con, pen)
Highlanders 22 (Tei Walden 2, Aki Seiuli, Shannon Frizell tries; Lima Sopoaga con) HT: 42-0
Here is a glimpse of last night from the crowd: