WELLINGTON – Liam Messam relived his glory days as the Chiefs made best use of the wind to down the Highlanders 45-22 in a free-running Super Rugby spectacle in Suva on Saturday.
New Zealand derbies are traditionally closely-fought affairs but between the two sides challenging for fifth on the ladder, this game was settled in a one-sided first half which saw the Chiefs, playing with the wind, put on 42 unanswered points.
When the Highlanders had the wind behind them in the second half, they maintained the frantic pace set by the Chiefs and staged their own revival. But while they scored four tries and denied the Chiefs a bonus point it was not enough.
Throughout, it was the 34-year-old Messam who was the influential figure as he wound back the clock to show the same power and ability to be in the right place that first brought him to the All Blacks attention in 2008.
He may not have been required at international level for the past three years, but he remains an instrumental figure in the Chiefs' play as they scored six tries in the first half.
"That was a classic encounter of how to play with the wind," a relieved Chiefs captain Sam Cane said having chosen correctly at the toss.
"We got it spot on in the first half and the 'Landers played pretty sharp with it in the second half so we feel we were lucky we got enough in the first half to hold us in."
Highlanders skipper Ben Smith took satisfaction from the way his side rallied in the second spell "but we gave them too much head start in that first half and we've got to be better than that".
The win moved the Chiefs past the Highlanders on the ladder and left the Otago club wondering why, having won all six games they have played in Dunedin this year, they chose to take this home match to Suva.
They were on the back foot from the start with the Chiefs up 28-0 after 25 minutes with tries to Solomona Alaimalo, Toni Pulu, Karl Tu'inukuafe try and Luke Jacobson all converted by Damian McKenzie.
When the Highlanders managed a rare entry inside the Chiefs 22 they were sent packing by a wind-assisted 70-metre clearing kick from Charlie Ngatai.
Luke Whitelock was yellow carded with seven minutes remaining in the first half which saw the Chiefs pounce again with quick tries to Sean Wainui and Pulu while McKenzie maintained his 100 percent kicking record.
Tei Walden scored twice with a try each to Aki Seiuli and Shannon Frizell as the Highlanders fought back in the second half.
The Chiefs were kept tryless but added to their tally with a McKenzie penalty.