Super Rugby Pacific: Five takeaways from Highlanders v Chiefs including Daniel Rona shining and 1,000 for Damian McKenzie

·4-min read
Super Rugby Pacific: Chiefs huddle Credit: Alamy
Super Rugby Pacific: Chiefs huddle Credit: Alamy

Following the Chiefs’ stunning 52-28 win over the Highlanders in Dunedin, Planet Rugby selects five takeaways from the action.

Chiefs create history

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The triumph over the ‘Landers means that the Chiefs have won 10 consecutive games, making this run their most successful after last weekend’s success tied their previous record.

It is a testament to what is a brilliant team playing some outstanding rugby this season. The 2023 Chiefs seem like they can score from anywhere on the field, as they showed again on Friday.

The balance in the combinations and willingness across the whole squad to work hard and perform for the collective is very, very impressive. This has made them the side to beat and certainly made them title favourites as the competition enters the latter stages of the regular season.

1,000 up for DMac

It seems like every week there is something to say about Damian McKenzie, and deservedly so. The superstar is absolutely playing out of his skin in the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific, and this week is a celebration of his quality over an extended period.

During the clash against the Highlanders, McKenzie became the first Chief, and the ninth player, to notch up 1,000 points in Super Rugby. This is a truly outstanding achievement for a player who is only 28 years old and one who has spent time away from the competition for a whole season.

McKenzie has always been a gem, but now he is a polished diamond begging to shine on the brightest of stages.

Daniel Rona is flying

The centre put in another blockbuster performance as he crossed for a brace of tries and assisted Shaun Stevenson with a cheeky little dink over the defensive line. What makes this all the more impressive is that it is only his seventh game for the Chiefs, and he is not even on a full contract.

Injuries in the midfield opened the door for the youngster, who grabbed it seemingly with every fibre of his being. What is fascinating is that he should only get better. He has attributes aplenty: good turn of pace, physicality in the contact area, try-scoring instincts and, as we saw in this game, creativity as well.

Keep an eye on Rona, he could be a player well worth watching develop.

Brave Highlanders

It was another tough defeat for the Highlanders against New Zealand opposition but, whilst the score was not a good look for the side, it did not reflect their efforts.

The home side started well and for the opening 10 minutes did not give the Chiefs a sniff at all. However, after an early try from Ethan de Groot, the inaccuracies in the kicking game opened the door for the visitors, who in fairness made the most of it.

And then in the second half, despite being battered on the scoreboard, they relentlessly kept playing and attacking, but it was to no avail.

They can be proud of their efforts, particularly in the pack, as the forwards put in a strong shift. If they can find a way to bring their backline into the game more there will be great improvement.

Law innovations work

The timers on scrums and lineout, in conjunction with referee Ben O’Keeffe’s approach to the game, made it very pleasant viewing. There was no strolling or dawdling to lineouts, so when the ball was out the forwards got to the mark, and play continued. The same can be said for scrums, which are a time-consuming facet of the game.

Outside of that, O’Keeffe was always looking to play advantage whilst communicating clearly with both sets of players. There was barely anything debatable that came from his whistle, which was a brilliant performance from the official.

With ball out-of-play time a concern in rugby union, there may just be some answers here.

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