WELLINGTON – A 14-man Otago Highlanders came from behind to kick off the Super Rugby season with a thrilling 30-27 win over Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday.
All Black half-back Aaron Smith's late try sealed the win for the Highlanders, who had Sio Tomkinson sent off for a high shot on Brodie Retallick.
They trailed 19-10 at half-time, and captain Ben Smith said they had to dig deep for the away win.
“It was a hell of a battle and what better way to set the tone for Super Rugby,” he said, after the first match of the competition's 2019 season. “I thought we adjusted well when Sio went off and managed to maintain the game and scrape home.”
Chiefs skipper Retallick was disappointed at the loss after his side scored four tries to three - including a double for Etene Nanai-Seturo - but paid the price for some poor kicking and lapses in discipline.
“We'll learn from it... we were right in the game except for that last 15-20 minutes when it got away from us,” he said. “But we've got some young boys who got their first hit out and some exciting outside backs and I saw some great execution from them.”
The Highlanders dominated the early exchanges but solid defence prevented them from making it count on the scoreboard until towering lock Pari Pari Parkinson scored the season's first try in the 14th minute.
Kayne Hammington caught the Chiefs' defence napping with a quick restart that opened the way for Parkinson to burrow his way over the line through a press of bodies.
The Chiefs hit back a few minutes later when Tyler Ardron broke from the back of a scrum to score.
They then look the lead after a spectacular kick and chase from Bailyn Sullivan set up Angus Taavao-Matau for the home side's second try.
Nanai-Seturo added a third when hooker Nathan Harris floated him a beautifully weighted pass to release the winger down the left touchline.
His second came just after half-time when he gathered Orbyn Leger's cross-field kick on the run before crossing the line.
A Shannon Frizell try with 20 minutes left on the clock kept Highlanders' hopes alive and they continued to press even when they were reduced to 14 men in the 66th minute.
Tomkinson was shown a straight red for his shoulder charge on Retallick, who said after the match that he was uninjured.
Aaron Smith opened the Chiefs defence with a dummy pass to score the decisive try, and then the Highlanders held onto the ball to see out the final minutes and claim victory.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)