Jona Nareki scores a hat-trick as Highlanders strike back to down Chiefs
WELLINGTON - An outstanding three-try performance by Jona Nareki saw the Highlanders come from behind to beat the Chiefs 39-23 in their Super Rugby Aotearoa clash in Hamilton on Friday.
The Chiefs led 20-11 with 30 minutes to go before the Highlanders found an extra gear and produced three tries in five minutes to Folau Fakatava, Shannon Frizell and Nareki.
The hosts tried to claw their way back with a Damian McKenzie penalty only for the Highlanders to reply with another try by former New Zealand Sevens star Nareki.
It was not the result Clayton McMillan was hoping for in his first match as Chiefs' head coach, while Warren Gatland is committed to the British and Irish Lions this year, as it extended their 10-match losing streak.
But the five-tries-to-two bonus-point win pleased Highlanders captain Ash Dixon after last week's defeat by the Canterbury Crusaders, who were penalised 15 times and received two yellow cards.
Against the Chiefs, the Highlanders also had two yellow cards and were heavily penalised but came out on the right side of the scoreboard.
"In the first half our discipline was poor," Dixon said. "But I'm really proud of the second half. I think we learnt a lot from last week.
"We started the second half really well and just built from there."
In the first half, the Chiefs looked as if they were going to run away with the game when they were on the board in the opening minute with a McKenzie penalty.
Mckenzie added another penalty, converted a try by Luke Jacobson and then scored himself and adding the conversion, while the Highlanders relied on two Josh Ioane penalties and the first try by Nareki.
But 10 minutes into the second half the game turned dramatically when Fakatava, starting at scrum-half ahead of All Black Aaron Smith, scored.
From the restart, Nareki barrelled through the Chiefs defence and put Frizell over before scoring a runaway try himself.
After McKenzie's late penalty, Nareki completed his memorable hat-trick by coming off the left wing to score in the right corner.