Ugly drop goal got the job done says Highlanders' Gatland

Reuters

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Otago Highlanders' Bryn Gatland described his match-winning drop goal as ugly, while his father Warren did not care it was his son that had cost his Waikato Chiefs side victory in the opening match of New Zealand's Super Rugby Aotearoa on Saturday.

The Highlanders replacement slotted home the 79th-minute drop kick to give the hosts a 28-27 win in Dunedin and electrify the end of the first game of professional rugby in the world after a three-month COVID-19 shutdown.

"It was a bit of an ugly one but it went through," said Bryn. "But I was just thinking about finishing the game. There was still time left on the clock."

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His father said he did not have mixed emotions about how the result was achieved but was just annoyed to have lost.

"I'm not happy we lost the game, I don't care whether he's my son or not," Warren said with a wry grin. "I'm still disappointed with the result."

While local fans had been looking forward to the spectacle of the competition involving just the New Zealand Super Rugby sides, both teams struggled with the stricter interpretation of the rules at the breakdown and tackle.

Referee Paul Williams dished out more than 30 penalties.

Players and coaches alike said it was now incumbent on them to adapt to the new interpretations, which had been ushered in to try and speed up the game.

"I thought the game might have been faster, but it was really stop-start," said Highlanders captain Ash Dixon.

"We have got a fair bit of work to do (at the breakdown). We were poor and the Chiefs were all over us and we were lucky."

Chiefs captain Brad Weber, however, said he thought the Highlanders had actually won the breakdown battle.

"A lot of the time we weren't winning the race to the breakdown and guys... were getting over the ball," Weber said.

"I thought they did that well tonight."


(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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