Super Rugby scores: Waisake Naholo brings ‘presence’ back to Otago Highlanders title charge

The Otago Highlanders continued their fight back into title contention on Saturday as Waisake Naholo fuelled a 26-13 win over second-placed Waikato Chiefs.

Waisake Naholo of the Otago Highlanders shown in action in his team's Super Rugby contest on Saturday in Hamilton, New Zealand. Ross Stetford / EPA / May 7, 2016
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Saturday:

Otago Highlanders 26, Waikato Chiefs 13 (Highlanders 32 points, 3rd; Chiefs 37 points, 2nd)

Western Force 40, Japan Sunwolves 22 (Force 10 points, 16th; Sunwolves 7 points, 17th)

NSW Waratahs 21, Central Cheetahs 6 (Waratahs 25 points, 9th; Cheetahs 12 points, 13th)

Friday:

Canterbury Crusaders 38, Queensland Reds 5 (Crusaders 37 points, 1st; Reds 12 points, 15th)

ACT Brumbies 23, Blue Bulls 6 (Brumbies 25 points, 8th; Bulls 28 points, 6th)

To play:

Coastal Sharks v Wellington Hurricanes (Sharks 22 points, 11th; Hurricanes 31 points, 4th)

Southern Kings v Auckland Blues (Kings 4 points, 18th; Blues 20 points, 12th)

All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo bagged a double on his return to Super Rugby as the Otago Highlanders downed the Waikato Chiefs 26-13, allowing the Canterbury Crusaders to takeover the competition leadership.

Naholo, the top try-scorer last year but out of action this season since he suffered a leg injury in the opening round, touched down twice in the second half as the defending champions confirmed they are again serious contenders.

The Crusaders, courtesy of their 38-5 win over the Queensland Reds on Friday, lead the competition on points differential over the Chiefs and have a game in hand.

The Highlanders, who face the Crusaders next weekend, have lost three of 10 games but lie just five points behind the leaders and captain Ben Smith said the return of Naholo had brought a new energy to the side.

“He’s had that presence during the week at training and the boys get excited when they see the ball in his hands. It’s great to have him back,” Smith said.

The Chiefs had been the competition pacesetters although their early season cohesion has deserted them in recent weeks with narrow wins over the Auckland Blues, Wellington Hurricanes and Coastal Sharks.

“For one reason or another the passes weren’t sticking. We have to be better, it’s disappointing,” Chiefs captain Sam Cane said.

The Chiefs set out with a game plan to run the Highlanders off the park but instead let themselves down with repeated handling errors and were forced to resort to a kicking game for territory.

They had first points on the board with a close range Aaron Cruden penalty but although they dominated possession for most of the first half they were held back from the line by a watertight Highlanders defence.

The southerners, however, made the most of their rare forays into Chiefs territory and turned with a 13-3 lead.

Lima Sopoaga landed two penalties and prop Daniel Lienert-Brown scampered 22 metres for the opening try.

Naholo scored his first try, finishing off a break by fellow Fijian wing Patrick Osborne early in the second half when the Chiefs were down to 14 men with Charlie Ngatai in the sin-bin for a tip tackle.

Ngatai returned to the field to make amends by setting Cruden away for a try in the corner as the Chiefs reduced the gap to 18-8.

But Naholo put the outcome beyond doubt with his second try in the right-hand corner after almost the entire Highlanders side featured in a lengthy build up.

Sopoaga missed the conversion but landed a second penalty before Sam Vaka scored a consolation try for the Chiefs on full-time.

At Sydney, the New South Wales Waratahs ended a three-match losing streak with a 21-6 win over the Bloemfontein-based Central Cheetahs.

Bernard Foley had 16 points for the winners from a try, conversion and three penalty goals. Israel Folau crossed in the final seconds, a try that would have given the Waratahs a bonus point and first place in the Australian conference, but it was called back because of a forward pass in the lead-up.

The Waratahs and ACT Brumbies are level with 25 points, but New South Wales have a game in hand.

Marcel Brache scored three tries in the first half to lead the Perth-based Western Force to a 40-22 win over the Sunwolves in Tokyo.

The match at Chichibu rugby ground got off to a promising start for the hosts when Akihito Yamada ran in a try in the third minute to give the Sunwolves a brief 5-0 lead.

Brache responded two minutes later with his first try and the visitors took the momentum and built a 26-5 lead by half-time.

Tusi Pisi and Derek Carpenter scored tries after the break to give the hosts some hope but any chance of a comeback was dashed when Angus Cottrell intercepted a pass at the halfway line and ran the distance to make it 40-15 in the 75th minute.

The Brumbies, meanwhile, had moved into first place on Friday night and prevented the Pretoria-based Blue Bulls from doing the same in their South Africa 1 Group with a 23-6 win.

Leading 9-3 at half-time, ACT’s Nigel Ah Wong and Tomas Cubelli scored the game’s only tries in the 45th and 57th minutes to hand the Bulls their first loss since the opening round.

The 17-point win was the Brumbies’ biggest victory margin over the Bulls since 2003.

The Brumbies and Waratahs are now both two points ahead of the Melbourne Rebels, who have a bye this weekend and have played nine games. The second-place Bulls have 28 points in the South Africa 1 conference, one behind the Western Stormers, who also have the weekend off.

Earlier in Christchurch winger Jone Macilai scored three tries as the Crusaders beat the Queensland Reds 38-5, their eighth consecutive win.

Macilai, on the left wing, scored all three tries at the end of backline moves from set pieces to move them level with the first-place Chiefs in the New Zealand conference.

The winger had a fourth try disallowed and charged down the conversion of the Reds’ only try – scored by Campbell Magnay – to cap an outstanding performance.

Macilai scored at the end of swift passing movements from scrums in the fourth and seventh minutes and again in the second minute of the second half.

Lock Scott Barrett and replacements Jordan Taufua and Codie Taylor also scored tries for the Crusaders, who took a bonus point.

The Crusaders have now scored 13 tries in the first quarter of matches this season, the best record in the tournament and more than twice as many as the next-best team.

Their strong start and solid defence were pivotal as the Reds had more than 60 per cent of possession through the remainder of the match. The Crusaders were also punished with 13 penalties and a yellow card to skipper Kieran Read.

“We had a good start after a week off,” Read said. “The guys were excited to get back out on the field and it certainly does help to get off to a start like that.”

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