Chiefs fight back to secure Highlanders draw

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Lynn McConnell     04 May 2019     Getty Images

It was a game in which neither side gained the ascendancy they wanted to hammer home the winning advantage. The initial impetus was with the Highlanders but the desire, determination and guts of the Chiefs kept them in the game and they scored three tries in the final quarter to get up to claim a draw.

Leading the way with a game that signalled his arrival as a prospective international was blindside flanker Luke Jacobson, the former world championship-winning NZ Under-20 captain, who had a phenomenal game, alongside No.8 Tyler Ardron and second five-eighths Anton Lienert-Brown, whose command in midfield was an inspiration.

Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith produced some key plays in his side's scoring chances while first five-eighths Josh Ioane demonstrated his rising stature in the position. Of concern for fullback Ben Smith was a head clash and leg injury, just before the end of the game when caught in a tackle with Jacobson. The All Blacks fullback had to be assisted from the field. Lock James Hemopo was another who had a big game in the tight-loose exchanges while hooker Liam Coltman was ever present in the tight.

It appeared Lienert-Brown may have opened the scoring after a dropped Highlanders ball on the Chiefs 10m line which he toed downfield and then won the chase to the touchdown. But a TMO check revealed the dropped ball had been knocked down by Lienert-Brown in the tackle.

And when play returned downfield from that scrum No.8 Elliott Dixon made a strong run from a lineout and when tackled the ball was recovered and first five-eighths Josh Ioane made his first mark on the night when taking the gap to score.

The Chiefs struck back moments later courtesy of an in-pass off a ruck by lock Michael Allardice to Ardron who stormed into space and then had halfback Brad Weber racing up in support to take a pass and score.

Inspired by Jacobson the Chiefs kept the pressure on the home team. They were looking to break out again when just inside the Highlanders half, wing Sean Wainui threw an inside pass only to have it intercepted.

That ball was moved to Ben Smith, and he set in train a movement which saw Ioane chip ahead, regain the ball and then from a ruck in the Chiefs' goalmouth, Smith, who had been tackled in the previous movement, got up and ran into halfback where he took the ball, side-stepped the close defence and went over for the try.

Losing flanker Lachlan Boshier and Allardice could have upset the Chiefs midway through the half but their defence under some constant Highlanders pressure held up and they had reward when able to escape their own territory when centre Tumua Manu was able to give wing Etene Nanai-Seturo a chance to run into space. The play carried forward deep into the Highlanders' 22m area and it was th Jacobson who had deserved reward with a well-taken try out wide.

Coming out from halftime with genuine desire the Highlanders pressured the Chiefs and after several penalty advantages they finally pieced together a set-piece play when Dixon played the ball to Aaron Smith off the back of the scrum. Smith fed Ben Smith and then got across to take an in-pass before slipping a ball to right wing Matt Faddes to go over wide out.

Another clever break by Ioane resulted in the Highlanders mounting another drive and flanker Jackson Hemopo and second five-eighths Tei Walden both featured prominently in taking the ball forward before the ball was released from a goal-line ruck. Aaron Smith flung a half-field pass to flanker James Lentjes waiting on the left flank to score.

Refusing to lie down the Chiefs stormed back and from a lineout, Weber ran onto ball delivered from height to the front of the line. He linked with replacement prop Angus Ta'avao who had hooker Nathan Harris on his outside. When he was tackled, Ta'avao had stayed inside and scored the try.

Jacobson was in the action again with 12 minutes left when he slipped a ball out of a tackle to fullback Solomon Alaimalo who got it to Lienert-Brown before finding Ardron in support to score the try that got the Chiefs back within four points.

Scorers: Highlanders 31 (Josh Ioane, Ben Smith, Matt Faddes, James Lentjes tries; Ioane 4 con, pen) Chiefs 31 (Brad Weber, Luke Jacobson, Angus Ta'avao 2, Tyler Ardron tries; Marty McKenzie 3 con). HT: 14-12