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Super Rugby: Nareki's 3 tries leads Highlanders past Chiefs

·2-min read

HAMILTON, New Zealand (AP) — Winger Jona Nareki scored three tries and created another as the Dunedin-based Highlanders rallied from 20-6 down Friday to beat the Hamilton-based Chiefs 39-23 in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

The Chiefs, who couldn’t win a match in their 2020, looked set after a first round bye to open their 2021 season with a win when they controlled the first half and led 20-11 at halftime.

But the Highlanders scored four second half tries to wrest the match away the Chiefs and to post their first win of the season after an opening round loss.

After scrumhalf Folua Fakatava dashed through an inside gap to score in the 50th minute, making the score 20-18, Nareki completed his double and created a try for Shannon Frizell to take the Highlanders to a 32-20 lead.

The Chiefs nibbled at the lead with a penalty before Nareki dived in at the corner in the 69th minute to clinch the match with his hat trick try.

“I thought we played better with 14 men on the field than in the first half,” said captain Ash Dixon who was one of two Highlanders players sin-binned before halftime. “That first half our discipline was pretty poor and we were playing at the wrong end of the park.

“But I’m really proud of our second half effort. I think we learned a lot from last week.”

The Chiefs went 0-8 under British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland coach last year in the inagural season of the five-team New Zealand domestic competition. Under caretaker coach Clayton McMillan and with Gatland’s son Bryn calling the shots at flyhalf, the Chiefs looked more formidable in the first half Friday, controlling possession and forcing errors of discipline from the Highlanders.

Warren Gatland has stepped aside this season because of his involvement later in the year with the Lions’ scheduled tour to South Africa.

The Highlanders were heavily penalized in the first half, mainly for careless breaches at the offside line. That cost them two players consecutively to the sin-bin, including Dixon.

The Chiefs scored tries through flanker Luke Jacobson and fullback Damian McKenzie — both from attacking scrums — while the Highlanders were a man short and led 20-11 at halftime.

But the Highlanders also scored a try through Nareki during that period which launched their comeback. Nareki pounced on the ball when a kick from Gatland was partially charged down and ran 90 meters to score.

After Fakatava’s try, Nareki fielded another loose kick just outside his 22 and beat three tacklers before passing to Fizell who scored. He scored again himself in the 57th minute, giving the Highlanders a 32-20 lead with three tries in a period of seven minutes.

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