After an awful start to their 2023 season saw Clarke Dermody's Highlanders concede over 100 points within two weeks, the team appears to now be heading in the right direction. A tense first half that would have added plenty of bruises to the players finished as a 0-8 losing margin, before the flood gates opened in the second half. A far smaller losing margin of 7-21 was the Highlanders' final score.
Hugh Renton, a previous guest on The Black Jersey, has the best performance of his career for the Highlanders.
We've got a fair few notable performances to discuss in this post-match autopsy, so let's read through the Highlanders from jersey number 1 through to number 23 and see how every player went against the Chiefs.
HIGHLANDERS PLAYER RATINGS
Loosehead Prop - Ethan de Groot (8/10)
Was instrumental in keeping the Chiefs' running threats at bay by slowing ruck ball. Assisted in keeping his team's scrum rate at 100% and ran 5 metres off his only carry. Made a couple nice touches and 7/9 tackles, as he looks to prepare for his Rugby World Cup campaign.
Hooker - Rhys Marshall (4/10)
Couldn't quite hit the target in the lineouts a few times, as the Chiefs won two lineout steals in the first half. Worked hard around the field with 7 metres off 4 carries and made 3 passes, but had the worst tackle ratio of the starting forwards, with 11/15.
Tighthead Prop - Jermaine Ainsley (8/10)
Sent a strong message to the 2022 All Blacks XV selectors' snubbing; by anchoring the scrum in well, as to be expected. Although Ainsley didn't get to touch the ball in the game, he was a defensive workhorse that made 15/16 tackles in a strong outing.
Lock 4 - Pari Pari Parkinson (7/10)
After giving new viewers an impression of being "big for nothing" in the first two rounds, we began to see glimpses of Parkinson returning to form, before he came off injured. Made 21 metres, beat 1 defender and made 1 clean break off just 2 carries, while contributing 6/6 tackles and 1 turnover in a well-rounded stat sheet, despite playing only 34 minutes.
Lock 5 - Josh Dickson (7/10)
Had one of those games where he didn't get much ball as well, but did well with the opportunities that were given. His 7 passes included a nice lineout steal, while he managed 14/15 tackles and produced solid ball recycling at the ruck.
Blindside Flanker - Shannon Frizell (5/10)
Was pretty anonymous in the first half, before conceding a yellow card in the second. Had a slightly above performance overall, with 13 metres off 3 carries, 1 turnover and 11/12 tackles, though this card brings his rating down. Though Ian Foster will almost certainly use Frizell to back Scott Barrett up at 6 for the All Blacks, is Frizell the best 6 for the Highlanders?
Openside Flanker - James Lentjes (7/10)
With Billy Harmon and Folau Fakatava taking their All Blacks rest, Lentjes started at 7 to captain the side. Made some tight carries with 4 metres off 2 carries and made the second-most tackles for his side with 17. Replaced with 11 minutes left.
Number 8 - Hugh Renton (9/10)
Missed the first two rounds with a minor injury and burst to life in the best performance of his career after being ready to go. Ran the most metres in the team with 100, while also accumulating 2 defenders beaten and 1 clean break off just 7 carries; topping the team's tackle count with 19/22 as well. Made 2 nice turnovers to compliment a solid 80 minutes.
Halfback - Aaron Smith (7/10)
Passed pretty efficiently with his props able to shut down the Chiefs' counterrucking on most occasions, before shifting to 10 for the last 5 minutes. Had a couple nice runs for 9 metres and 1 defender beaten, while also winning 1 turnover. A dodgy tackle rate with 8/12, but he's only a halfback.
First-Five - Mitch Hunt (6/10)
Made some solid clearing kicks, but probably spent a bit too much time in the pocket for a 10, with just 8 passes. Managed a few nice runs with 16 metres and 1 defender beaten, while his 6/8 tackle ratio was far better than some of the other backs. Handling errors let his rating down a little too, but fair play for remaining on the pitch to call strike moves while appearing to have a wrist injury?
Left Wing - Mosese Dawai (5/10)
Spotted a tight gap to score his team's only try of the match, while taking his opportunities out wide for 52 metres and 2 defenders beaten off 6 carries. Probably could have done with avoiding his 2 offloads that were a bit messy, while his 6/11 tackle ratio was terrible.
Second-Five - Thomas Umaga-Jensen (4/10)
The Chiefs' 89% tackle rate created a brick wall with no way through. Against a solid defence line, Umaga-Jensen was essentially forced to play as a ninth forward with 24 metres off 5 carries. 3 passes were a bit to low, while 8/11 tackles could be better.
Centre - Fetuli Paea (3/10)
Paea's return from bereavement leave was a move the coaches probably made a bit early. Good players can have a bad game and that was sadly the result for Paea, who failed to gain metres off his 2 carries and made just 2/10 tackles. Hopefully he'll be all good after taking a good weekend rest.
Right Wing - Martin Bogado (6/10)
Though the Highlanders' attack quite simply wasn't firing out wide, we at last got a decent look at the uncapped Pumas winger. Bogado made plenty of big hits with 6/7 tackles as he looked for work off the ball, though he was only able to gain 17 metres and 2 defenders beaten off 3 carries. Give him more ball next time and he'll be firing.
Fullback - Freddie Burns (6/10)
Played in the unfamiliar position of fullback, as the coaches looked to put both Umaga-Jensen and a second playmaker on the pitch. Made some good tactical kicking efforts and ran 62 metres off 5 carries, though he didn't quite have the pace to finish some runs off. Bad defending with 1/3 tackles.
Reserve Hooker - Leni Apisai (6/10)
Re-started the lineout to function a little better, while making a strong carry for 12 metres. Made 2/3 tackles, but probably should have come on earlier, as he didn't quite have the chance to assert himself in the breakdown.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Ayden Johnstone (5/10)
Came off the bench and made de Groot's absence stick out noticeably, as the Chiefs' ruck speed was able to become quicker. A pretty average game aside from that with 4 metres off 2 carries, 2 passes and 2/2 tackles.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - Saula Ma'u (5/10)
Had a similar performance to Johnstone, though he wasn't able to gain any metres. Came off with 2 minutes to go with what appeared to be a neck injury, so fingers crossed he'll be all good for next week.
Reserve Lock - Fabian Holland (5/10)
On for Parkinson in the 34th minute and looked raring to go for his third Super Rugby game. Holland had a bit of an average game but is just 20 years old, so look for the 3 metres off 1 carry and 6/9 tackles to be improved on significantly, especially as he's just returned from a pre-season knee injury.
Reserve Loose Forward - Sean Withy (No rating)
Played for the last 11 minutes after replacing Lentjes. Made just a single tackle so didn't play enough to get a rating.
Reserve Halfback - Kemara Hauiti-Parapara (No rating)
You can't give a player a proper rating off 5 minutes of game time.
Reserve Midfielder - Jake Te Hiwi (5/10)
Called into the team for a short-term deal as Scott Gregory and Josh Timu are injured. Made some nice carries with 7 metres in tight channels, though he wasn't lined up on defence. Is 20 years old, so will be one to keep the eyes on.
Reserve Outside Back - Connor Garden-Bachop (No rating)
Replaced Bogado with 15 minutes to go, but didn't need to attempt any tackles and didn't receive any passes so won't be rated.