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Chiefs Player Ratings vs Highlanders (Super Rugby Round 11, 2023)

A highlight-reel local derby game of two Kiwi teams unleashing their attack on one another was exactly what we needed for our Friday night entertainment, with Anton Lienert-Brown celebrating 100 Super Rugby games. After taking a lead of 28-14 at half-time, the Chiefs had a strong mental edge after their early comeback, before finishing the game with a final score of 52-28; defying all odds against their 38% territory ratio.

Most points of discussion need to be covered as an unbeaten season has continued deep into the calendar for Clayton McMillan's men. Let's do the usual and read through the Chiefs from jersey number 1 through to 23.


Pita Gus Sowakula produced a fine effort at flanker, Clermont have signed a solid option for their 2023/24 Top 14 season. Photo: Max Sharp.

Loosehead Prop - Aidan Ross (5/10)

Some dew on the pitch saw Ross have a few handling errors early on but that's forgivable being so far south. Wasn't on par with his usual defensive standards with 7/10 tackles, but made up for this issue with a safe scrum in the second half.

Hooker - Samisoni Taukei'aho (6/10)

Although his ridiculously good form has forced us to forget so, Taukei'aho is still human; having thrown his first two lineouts off-target. Grew into the game for 18 metres in his 6 carries, remaining a defensive workhorse for 10/11 tackles.

Tighthead Prop - George Dyer (8/10)

Successive starts so far this year have seen Dyer grow hugely in confidence this year, exemplified by the 14 metres and 1 defender beaten off 2 carries. One of these carries saw Dyer finish a mouthwatering team try, though his defence wasn't perfect for a 7/10 ratio.

Lock 4 - Tupou Vaa'i (9/10)

I forgot that Vaa'i was on the pitch and so considering the scoreline; he can be thanked for creating that score by hitting so many rucks. His quiet achiever effort was for 28 metres, 2 defenders beaten, 1 clean break, 7 carries, 6 passes, 17/20 tackles and 1 turnover. If you don't notice the contributions of a tight-five forward, chances are that they're world-class.

Lock 5 - Naitoa Ah Kuoi (8/10)

Only touching the ball six times during the game, Ah Kuoi made sure it was for strong contributions as he delivered 4 passes and 10 metres off 2 carries. Unbelievable defence in just 53 minutes, for 8/8 tackles and a whopping 3 turnovers.

Blindside Flanker - Pita Gus Sowakula (8/10)

This man was so much of a menace at the breakdown, his coach had to give him detention by taking him off. Seriously though, Sowakula was excellent in slowing opposition ball, while also achieving 6/8 tackles and 2 turnovers for himself. 13 metres from 3 carries was also a nice showing.

Openside Flanker - Sam Cane (5/10)

With the tight-five forwards and Sowakula all taking such good care of the breakdown, Cane merely had to stand and guard the fringes. Had a limited impact outside of his 10/13 tackles, with just 2 carries and 4 passes in 80 minutes.

Number 8 - Luke Jacobson (8/10)

Hugh Renton has put the pressure on Jacobson all season, so he'll be relieved to have had a solid game. Jacobson's 11 carries were for 55 metres and 3 defenders beaten; while his distribution has been worked on. Completed the team's third-most tackles, for 13/15.

Halfback - Brad Weber (10/10)

What a brilliant performance. With Cam Roigard having a breakout season at the Hurricanes, Weber will have reminded the coaches of his experience in a Man of the Match effort for 1 try, 72 metres, 4 defenders beaten, 6 carries, 49 passes and 1 offload. The icing on the cake though, was despite the fact that Weber moved to wing later on, he still made the team's second-most tackles (including a try-saver) with 14/17. Incredible.

First Five - Damian McKenzie (8/10)

Although McKenzie's habit from last week of terrible kicks, was present for a short period, he grew into the game like Ross and Taukei'aho. 112 metres, 5 defenders beaten, 2 clean breaks, 10 carries, 20 passes, 1 offload, 7/7 tackles and 1 turnover were his stat tally for the day and Beauden Barrett will now feel some serious heat for the All Blacks' bench spot. This is especially as McKenzie spent 63 minutes at fullback.

Left Wing - Peniasi Malimali (7/10)

Several people were excited to see the number 11 play, though he sadly had to come off injured after 17 minutes. Malimali did well while on for 24 metres, 1 clean break, 2 carries, 1 pass, 1 offload and 2 tackles, so can still be rated. Hopefully he can play next week.

Second Five - Anton Lienert-Brown (8/10)

Made his return from injury with a 50-minute effort and will be stoked to finish unscathed. Crossed the try-line for a celebration of 100 Chiefs games, with an attack stat sheet of 40 metres, 1 defender beaten and 5 carries. What's especially pleasing? 11/11 tackles and 1 turnover. The number 12 certainly isn't gun-shy in his comeback run.

Centre - Daniel Rona (9/10)

Clayton McMillan confirmed that a Super Rugby contract for 2024 has been offered to Rona, after the game, and fairly so. A stunning game with 2 tries, 105 metres, 3 defenders beaten and 3 clean breaks off just 4 carries, while he got the goods done on defence with an identical contribution to Lienert-Brown on that front.

Right Wing - Emoni Narawa (10/10)

Considering Ian Foster's selection criteria, we can rule out a fourth-choice fullback's selection. Narawa showed some brilliant stepping en route to his sixth try of the year, ran 105 metres, beat 8 defenders, made 1 clean break, 9 carries, 2 passes, 1 offload, 8/8 tackles and 1 turnover. Give him an All Blacks cap now.

Fullback - Shaun Stevenson (7/10)

Stevenson made just 2/5 tackles, though the average viewer will attempt to paper this over with discussions around Stevenson's 89 metres, 1 try and 3 clean breaks off 11 carries. The best part of his game though, was seeing Stevenson's 7 passes and 4 offloads despite playing wing for most of the game.

Reserve Hooker - Bradley Slater (7/10)

Made a fine impact in his 20 minutes, with a run down the wing included in his 10 metres off 2 carries. Kept a steady flow of lineout ball as well as front-foot ball at the breakdown. A ratio of 3/3 tackles can't be faulted.

Reserve Loosehead Prop - Ollie Norris (6/10)

On with 20 to go and did just what a reserve prop looks to do, slow opposition ruck ball and rub it in with 1 turnover. The match had reached a stage of scrappiness that lead to most of the unstructured play by the time Norris had entered the game so he won't be faulted for 2/4 tackles.

Reserve Tighthead Prop - John Ryan (7/10)

Bought the lot of his experience onto the pitch with him, even kicking a loose ball into the Highlanders' half. Ran 10 metres and beat 1 defender off 3 carries, finishing his 30-minute stint off the bench with 5/6 tackles too.

Reserve Lock - Josh Lord (6/10)

The 2-test All Black is on the right track as he returns from an ACL injury in 2022. Made a solid contribution for 8 metres, 1 carry, 1 pass and 7/7 tackles within 27 minutes. Don't be surprised to see the big fella start at home in Taranaki next week.

Reserve Loose Forward - Kaylum Boshier (8/10)

Though he came off injured after 13 minutes to get replaced by Ratima, Boshier certainly impressed with carrying reminiscent of his older brother's. Managed 21 metres, 1 defender beaten and 1 clean break off just 2 carries, while delivering the try assist to Weber.

Reserve Halfback - Cortez Ratima (No rating)

Came on with just 11 minutes to go; Nankivell moved to 6, Weber moved to 11 and Stevenson appeared to be in midfield. Ratima won't be rated due to a lack of game time.

Reserve First Five - Bryn Gatland (7/10)

Replaced Malimali in the 17th minute and went straight into 10. Made just a single carry for 3 metres but made 4/5 tackles against his former team, while also providing strong tactical kicking to break the pitch apart, as well as 10 passes.

Reserve Midfielder - Alex Nankivell (No rating)

Made his return from concussion only to receive a single pass, before moving into the forwards to finish the game. Said circumstances means Nankivell won't be rated.

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