Super Rugby: Nareki’s three tries leads Highlanders past Chiefs

HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND (AP) — Winger Jona Nareki scored three tries and created another as the Dunedin-based Highlanders rallied from 20-6 down yesterday 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 yesterday, 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.