The Gallagher Chiefs have started their 2017 campaign in the best possible fashion, grinding their way to a 24-15 bonus point win over the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

 

Despite a lack of territory and possession for most of the match, two intercept tries to wing James Lowe and a gutsy defensive effort helped pave the way for the three tries to none season opening victory.

 

It was a fast start for the home side as a series of slick phases saw them launch deep into Chiefs territory and win a penalty as the Gallagher Chiefs were caught offside, and first five Lima Sopoaga kicked a simple three-pointer to draw first blood.

 

There was soon more pressure applied by the Highlanders with the Chiefs unable to get out of their own half, but against the run of play James Lowe was able to latch onto a loose pass from Aaron Smith and scoot away for an intercept try from near halfway.

 

Captain Aaron Cruden added the conversion from under the posts to give the Gallagher Chiefs a surprise 7-3 lead.

 

After some error ridden play from both sides it was then Lowe to the fore again, this time picking off a pass from Waisake Naholo to remarkably score his second intercept try in the

opening 20 minutes.

 

Cruden converted again to stretch the lead to 11.

 

A fired up Highlanders side stormed back down field and nearly replied immediately when Naholo went close to scoring from a Sopoaga cross kick.

Yet more good field position saw the Highlanders continue to threaten the Gallagher Chiefs defence but the final passes were not sticking with a combination of poor handling and desperate Chiefs tackling.

 

Sopoaga then missed a penalty attempt but was on target with his third kick of the night from 45 metres out to narrow the Chiefs lead.

 

The Highlanders’ dominance of territory and possession continued and several more phases deep in the Chiefs 22 very nearly led to their opening try of the match, but they had to settle once more for just three points from the boot of Sopoaga.

 

A rare chance on attack for the Gallagher Chiefs was the final play of the half, but the Highlanders cleared to touch after a turnover as the teams headed into the break with the visitors up 14 points to 9.

 

After absorbing the first half pressure, the Chiefs started the second spell brightly and were rewarded with their third try. A well worked lineout move down the touchline between hooker Hika Elliot and halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow saw Elliot break free and score in the left hand corner.

 

Cruden nailed the sideline conversion to push the lead out to 12 points.

 

Another long period on attack followed for the Highlanders as they went in search of a way back into the contest, but more courageous defence denied over 15 phases of attacking pressure.

 

With the amount of defending taking its toll, coach Dave Rennie went to the bench early and the fresh legs proved to be a much needed boost both on attack and in defence.

But as the match headed into the final quarter Sopoaga was able to add two quick penalties to narrow the gap to just six points.

 

The Chiefs reply was just as quick with a composed and patient attacking raid ending in a Cruden penalty to put the lead back out beyond a converted try.

 

There was yet more defending to do for the visitors but it seemed whatever the Highlanders threw at them they had an answer for, and a turnover from Liam Messam just two minutes from full time proved to be the final nail in the coffin as the Gallagher Chiefs ensured they would head back to Hamilton with a full five points to start the season.

 

Gallagher Chiefs 24 (James Lowe 2, Hika Elliot tries; Aaron Cruden 3 cons, pen) Highlanders 15 (Lima Sopoaga 5 pens) HT: 14-9.

 

Next up for the Gallagher Chiefs is their first home game of the season - a mouth-watering local derby against the Blues at FMG Stadium Waikato next Friday night. Tickets for that match are available from http://www.ticketdirect.co.nz/event/details/153983/gallagher-chiefs-v-blues.

Get excited Chiefs fans, because the future is bright. Twenty-five promising young players have been named today in the Chiefs U20s team to play the Blues U20s team this Saturday 25 February. Many of the names will be familiar to those astute rugby observers who have followed the Chiefs region Provincial Union U19s teams, with these exciting young players now looking to make their mark on an even bigger stage. 

The Chiefs U20s programme was developed in 2016 and forms a critical part of the comprehensive University of Waikato Chiefs Development programme, which identifies promising Chiefs region rugby players and develops them for future opportunities in professional rugby, together with their Provincial Unions. The Chiefs U20s programme is also an important part of the New Zealand Under 20s selection process.

This Saturday’s match kicks off at 2.30pm at the Manukau Rugby Football Club. It is the first of three games that the Chiefs U20s team will play, in a programme that includes a match against the Argentina U20s team in late March.

The University of Waikato Chiefs U20s team to play the Blues U20s team is:

1. Ryan Coxan (Waikato)

2. Bradley Slater (Taranaki)
3. Tevita Mafileo ( Bay of Plenty)
4. Sione Tuipulotu (Counties Manukau)
5. Sam Caird (Waikato)
6. Tom Florence (Taranaki)
7. Du’Plessis Kirifi (Waikato)
8. Luke Jacobson – CAPTAIN (Waikato)
9. Caleb Korteweg (Waikato)
10. Matthew Lansdown (Waikato)
11. Sevu Reece (Waikato)
12. Matt McKenzie (Taranaki)
13. Salimoni Tukania (Counties Manukau)
14. Tyler Campbell (Waikato)
15. Niven Longopoa (Waikato)

RESERVES:
16. Damon Abraham (Counties Manukau)
17. Angus MacDonald (Bay of Plenty)
18. Alex Mitchell (Taranaki)
19. Lachlan McWhannell (Waikato)
20. Antonio Kata (Counties Manukau)
21. Ajay Mua (Bay of Plenty)
22. Ciarahn Matoe (Taranaki)
23. Brad Armstrong (Bay of Plenty)
24. Antonio Mikaele Tu’u (Waikato)
25. James Brady (Counties Manukau)

Chiefs U20s Management Team:
Coach: Tasesa Lavea
Coach: Tai Lavea
Coach: Paul Tito
Trainer: George Wardell
Physio: Kyle Turvey
Manager: Paul Galletta
Programme Manager: Kent Currie

The future of Chiefs rugby is bright, with an exciting pool of talented rugby players named in the 2017 University of Waikato Chiefs Taua Development squad today. The 2017 Development programme includes two games against the Blues Development team, the first taking place on Friday 3 March at FMG Stadium Waikato serving as curtain raiser to the Gallagher Chiefs vs Blues Investec Super Rugby match. The rematch takes place just two weeks later on Saturday 18 March at Pakuranga Rugby Football Club in Auckland.

The University of Waikato Chiefs Taua Development team will also tour to Hong Kong under a high performance partnership formed between the Chiefs Rugby Club and the Hong Kong Rugby Union. The tour will be the third visit in as many years, giving players a great development opportunity and international touring experience including training and playing with the Hong Kong national squad.

Chiefs Player Identification and Development Manager Kent Currie said the University of Waikato Chiefs Taua Development programme provided players with exceptional development opportunities.

“The 2017 University of Waikato Chiefs Taua Development team was selected by the Chiefs coaches in collaboration with the Mitre 10 Cup coaches from Counties Manukau, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki. It has been a real team effort across the Provincial Unions to provide hugely promising players from within Chiefs country with meaningful rugby development and an opportunity to perform at that next level in view of the Chiefs coaches.

“Taking part in this comprehensive programme allows players to experience the Chiefs style of rugby first-hand and provides us with an opportunity to assess players for the Gallagher Chiefs as potential replacement players for this season and for the future. The University of Waikato Chiefs Taua Development programme is hugely important for the continued development of rugby in the Chiefs region with the great support of the University of Waikato. We are very appreciative of their ongoing support and commitment to helping promising New Zealand athletes fulfil their potential on and off the rugby field,” said Currie.

The University of Waikato Chiefs Taua Development squad features an exciting mix of youth and experience. The squad includes players from across the Chiefs region, with representation from Provincial Unions Counties Manukau, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki.

The University of Waikato Chiefs Taua Development squad will be coached by the experienced trio of Leo Crowley, Andrew Douglas and Carl Hoeft.

The University of Waikato Chiefs Taua Development squad is:

Forwards:

Aidan Ross (Bay of Plenty)
Ayden Johnstone (Waikato)
Jordan Lay (Bay of Plenty)
Reuben O’Neill (Taranaki)
Kalolo Tuiloma (Counties Manukau)
Joshua Iosefa-Scott (Waikato)
Sekope Moli (Waikato)
Samisoni Taukeo'aho (Waikato)
Sabastian Siataga (Bay Of Plenty)
Donald Maka (Taranaki)
Leva Fifita (Waikato)
Matiaha Martin (Counties Manukau)
Fin Hoeata (Taranaki)
Sam Caird (Waikato)
Otenili Moala (Waikato)
Viliame Rarasea (Counties Manukau)
Luke Jacobson (Waikato)
Mitch Jacobson (Waikato)
Jahrome Brown (Waikato)
Foti Lokotui (Counties Manukau)
Ta Hosea (Waikato)
Matthew Vaai (Counties Manukau)

Backs:

Jonathan Taumateine (Counties Manukau)
Richard Judd (Bay of Plenty)
Logan Crowley (Taranaki)
Harrison Levien (Waikato)
Luteru Laulala (Counties Manukau)
Joe Reynolds (Counties Manukau)
Beaudein Waaka (Taranaki)
Matthew Lansdown (Waikato)
Orbyn Leger (Counties Manukau)
Lalakai Foketi (Bay of Plenty)
Sam Vaka (Counties Manukau)
Elijah Nicholas (Bay of Plenty)
Liam Steel (Bay of Plenty)
Latu Vaeno (Taranaki)
Josh Gordon (Waikato)
Sheldon Tovio (Waikato)
Sevu Reece (Waikato)
Regan Ware (Bay of Plenty)
Lolohea Loco (Counties Manukau)

Unavailable for selection: Leighton Price (Taranaki), Jacob Skeen (Waikato), Monty Ioane (Bay of Plenty), Iopu Iopu-Aso (Taranaki)

The 2017 University of Waikato Chiefs Taua Development Management Team is:

Coach: Leo Crowley
Coach: Andrew Douglas
Coach: Carl Hoeft
Manager: Gareth Duncan
Trainer: Brad Mayo
Physio: Paul Smiler
Analyst: Mark Ray
Programme Manager: Kent Currie

“I feel like a 10-year-old kid again, I’m just really excited to lace up my boots and play some rugby.” – these words from Mitchell Karpik shared ahead of his Investec Super Rugby debut this Friday, aptly encapsulates the mood in camp two days out from the Gallagher Chiefs 2017 campaign opener against the Pulse Energy Highlanders in Dunedin.

Karpik, 21, is one of four exciting young players in line to make their Investec Super Rugby debut for the Gallagher Chiefs this weekend. He’s joined in the starting lineup by 21-year-old Taranaki livewire Johnny Faauli who will start his first game at second five-eighth, while 19-year-old Waikato hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho and Counties Manukau halfback Jonathan Taumateine, 20, could earn their first caps off the bench. All Black prop Nepo Laulala will also don the Gallagher Chiefs jersey for the first time after diligently working his way back from a knee injury sustained in January 2016.

In addition to the four promising youngsters, Gallagher Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie has selected a vastly experienced and determined lineup to set the benchmark for the side’s 2017 campaign. The starting fifteen features ten players with All Blacks experience, interlaced with several gutsy high performers looking to make a statement come Friday.

The Gallagher Chiefs team to play the Pulse Energy Highlanders at 7.35pm on Friday is:
1. Kane Hames (9)
2. Hika Elliot (104)
3. Nepo Laulala*
4. Dominic Bird (11)
5. Brodie Retallick (71)
6. Taleni Seu (18)
7. Mitchell Karpik**
8. Liam Messam (146)
9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow (67)
10. Aaron Cruden (captain) (73)
11. James Lowe (37)
12. Johnny Faauli**
13. Anton Lienert-Brown (24)
14. Toni Pulu (13)
15. Damian McKenzie (33)

RESERVES:

16. Samisoni Taukei’aho**
17. Siegfried Fisi’ihoi (11)
18. Atu Moli (11)
19. Mitchell Brown (3)
20. Lachlan Boshier (8)
21. Jonathan Taumateine**
22. Tim Nanai-Williams (77)
23. Shaun Stevenson (7)

() = Gallagher Chiefs caps in brackets
*denotes Gallagher Chiefs debut
**denotes Investec Super Rugby debut

Unavailable for selection: Brad Weber, Mitchell Graham, Fin Hoeata, Nathan Harris, James Tucker, Glen Fisiiahi, Chase Tiatia, Michael Allardice, Charlie Ngatai, Sam McNicol, Liam Polwart, Sam Cane.

The Gallagher Chiefs take on the Blues next Friday the 3rd of March in their first home game of 2017. Tickets to this thrilling local derby are available now from ticketdirect.co.nz or 0800 4 CHIEFS.