Highlanders upset Chiefs in Hamilton
This was the game the Highlanders were never supposed to win, but they did 20-17, over the Chiefs, courtesy of a last-minute Marty Banks penalty goal.
Cussed defence was all the Highlanders had going for them as they conceded 78 percent of the territory, but they tackled like demons to inflict mistakes on the unbeaten Chiefs and eventually had their rewards.
There was a hint of the controversial in the awarding of a penalty against Sonny Bill Williams, which allowed replacement five-eighths Banks to win the game, the Chiefs could only reflect on missed chances.
By taking advantage of some momentary Highlanders indiscipline which resulted in the sin-binning of lock Joe Wheeler early in the second half, the Chiefs looked to have done enough to win.
They resorted to lineout mauling power followed by scrummaging thrust to get themselves back in the game after being down 3-14 at halftime. The Chiefs secured the first of two penalty tries in Wheeler's enforced absence.
It was the second time in Investec Super Rugby that two penalty tries have occurred in the game – the first instance for the Crusaders against the Force last year – and on the night it said volumes for the Highlanders defence that it was the only way the Chiefs could score.
The Highlanders persistent defence denied the Chiefs time after time, but it was an infringement of playing the ball on the ground by lock Joe Wheeler that broke the back six minutes into the second half.
The reduced scrum was unable to hold the bigger Chiefs unit and in contesting the scrum drive the Highlanders conceded a penalty try.
Frustrated by a inability to apply finish to the wealth of possession they enjoyed in the first half, the Chiefs were guilty of handling errors and errors in decision-making.
They conceded nine handling errors to three while enjoying 78 percent of the territory but only 54 percent possession as a result of their errors.
As so often happens it was inevitable that it was the tenacious Highlanders who squeezed the most out of their few opportunities and then went to halftime with a 14-3 advantage.
That came by a superb piece of opportunism from a five-metre scrum on the Highlanders line. The Chiefs failed to control the ball and as it bobbled around in No-Man's Land it was second five-eighths Shaun Treeby who swooped on the ball and cleared out to halfway.
The Highlanders sensed their chance, held their composure and moved the Chiefs inside out before left wing Patrick Osborne capped the breakout with his own piece of magic, a sidestep and burst of acceleration that made something out of nothing as he scored the only try of the half.
James Lowe was in the action from the outset, chipping ahead and regathering the ball in one dangerous break and then charging into the backline to take a reverse pass from Cruden to loose his grip on the ball five metres out from the Highlanders' line.
That and a decision by halfback Augustine Pulu not to link to Lowe outside saw another key chance go begging while a lineout drive which resulted in a truck and trailer call denied them another.
The Chiefs head to South Africa on Sunday with plenty to ponder.
Chiefs 17 (Two penalty tries; Aaron Cruden 2 con, pen) Highlanders 20 (Patrick Osborne try; Lima Sopoaga 3 pen; Marty Banks 2 pen). HT: 3-14