Chiefs’ Damian McKenzie slots golden-point penalty in ending ’rugby people love’
WELLINGTON - A 48-metre Damian McKenzie penalty put the Chiefs into playoff contention in Super Rugby Aotearoa in Dunedin on Saturday when they downed the Highlanders 26-23 in a dramatic golden-point finish.
Chiefs captain Brad Weber described the sudden death decider as "fantastic" after the score was locked at 23-23 at the end of ordinary time.
McKenzie missed a chance to win the game in regulation time when he missed a 50-metre penalty after the hooter had gone.
But five minutes into extra time, after the Highlanders had missed a drop goal attempt, Anton Lienert-Brown won a penalty for the Chiefs and McKenzie calmly settled the issue.
It lifted the Chiefs to third in the competition, just two points behind the Auckland Blues and six away from the leaders Canterbury Crusaders.
The Highlanders slipped to fourth on 10 points, five ahead of the Wellington Hurricanes who play the Crusaders on Sunday.
"We really needed that," a relieved Chiefs captain Brad Weber said.
"Whichever team won tonight was really going to push their claim for this title so we're happy to be on the right side.
"It's the sort of rugby people love. They want to come and see tight finishes and golden point is great. I hate a draw so it's fantastic."
The Chiefs went into the match as underdogs with the Highlanders backing up from an upset victory over the Crusaders.
But captain Ash Dixon said they were unable to repeat that performance.
"We came out a bit flat," he said.
"For us to keep progressing in this competition we've got to turn up week in and week out and we just weren't consistent tonight."
In a frantic opening, Etene Nanai-Seturo scored in the corner to open the Chiefs account and the Highlanders replied almost immediately with James Lentjes scoring from a well-worked lineout move.
Then followed 30 minutes of attack, counter-attack and fruitless shots at goal until McKenzie successfully found the posts to have the Chiefs ahead 10-5 at half-time.
Aaron Smith levelled the score with a try soon after the resumption and the two sides traded points from there to the finish.
McKenzie kicked two further penalties and converted a try by Angus Ta'avao while Mitch Hunt and Josh Ioane landed penalties for the Highlanders with Ioane also scoring a try and kicking the conversion.
Ioane had a chance to win the match three minutes into extra time but his drop goal attempt went wide which allowed the Chiefs to move back downfield when McKenzie landed the winning penalty.