Highlanders win sets up big trans-Tasman semi
THE Highlanders are all that stands in the path of Michael Cheika and his Waratahs having a shot at Australian rugby history.
No Australian franchise has gone back-to-back in Super Rugby, but the Tahs will have the chance to break that hoodoo if they win through to the final against either the Brumbies or Hurricanes who clash in the other semi-final.
The Highlanders trailed 9-8 at the break in front of a crowd of 22,500 in Dunedin, but took advantage of their opportunities in the second half of a match that threatened to get out of hand at times following a number of bone-jarring hits and niggling incidents.
Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith was instrumental in both of Naholo's tries, while skipper Ben Smith said the key to victory had been being able to play in the right areas of the field.
"The Chiefs really put us under a lot of pressure for 80 minutes and I'm just glad we scrapped through," he said.
Meanwhile, the Brumbies will be full of confidence heading into their semi against the Hurricanes in Wellington following their 39-19 thumping of the Stormers in Cape Town.
Unfortunately some of the gloss was taken off the win with a red card shown to winger Henry Speight for a dangerous tackle. Speight appeared to dump Stormers centre Juan de Jongh on his head near the end of the game and is in danger of missing the semi-final.
Bookmakers Sportsbet have the Hurricanes hot favourites at $1.42 to beat the Brumbies ($2.90), while the Waratahs are strongly fancied at $1.53 to beat the Highlanders ($2.50).
SCORES: HIGHLANDERS 24 (W Naholo 2 tries; L Sopoaga con, 4 pen) CHIEFS 14 (B Retallick try; A Horell 3 pen) in Dunedin on Saturday night. BRUMBIES 39 (J Tomane 3, S Sio, I Vaea, J Mogg tries; C. Leali'ifano 3 con, pen) STORMERS 19 (C Kolbe try; D Catrikilis con, 4 pen) in Cape Town on Sunday morning