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Naholo double triumphs Highlanders

International Sports

Highlanders star, Waisake NaholoHighlanders star, Waisake NaholoWaisake Naholo has no idea how he got through 80 minutes but somehow he fought through the pain and found himself an early birthday present as he scored two tries to lead the Highlanders to a 26-13 win over the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday night.

The powerful All Blacks winger, who broke his leg in round one, stormed back into Super Rugby with a decisive display, as the Highlanders punished an uncharacteristically tardy Chiefs side in front of 23,396 at Stadium Waikato.

Naholo, who turns 25 on Sunday, said he was blowing hard by halftime and didn't reckon he could continue. But he made a decent fist of foxing every onlooker, as he dotted down twice in the right-hand corner to breathe life into his side's title defence.

"I was gone at 60 minutes, I was telling the physio that I'm starting to cramp and all that, started looking to the bench. They said five minutes more, but that five minutes was long," he quipped.

"I was just telling myself I was going to keep going, just another one minute, just another minute."

It was a different story from the view of Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph, who said while they had concerns over whether Naholo could go the distance, afterwards he felt he "could have played another 80 minutes"

While Naholo was feeling the lungs, he said the leg felt good. Having miraculously recovered from a break to the same leg to make the World Cup last year, it was cruel for him to be out of the game again so soon, with the same type of injury no less, but he said his time sitting on the sidelines this season had just fired him up.

"Yeah, I couldn't really do anything about it," he said. "I was getting smashed out there with the trainer, and the physios and doctor were really looking after me as well. So yeah it was hard watching the boys play and you wish you were out there playing."

Naholo said he was nervous the morning of the match but that those jitters disappeared when he got on the field. He made an early impact with a fine bust, snaffled a turnover, skipped down the touchline in the lead-up to the opening try of the night, then collected his own brace. Modestly though, he wasn't taking the credit.

"The forwards really did their job, and I just finished off."

Having got the better of fellow All Blacks contender James Lowe, Naholo is itching to add to his test caps.

"It's what every New Zealand rugby player wants, so I'm just out here to do my thing," he said.

While the Chiefs go into the bye licking their wounds, the Highlanders face another big match against the Crusaders in Dunedin next Friday. They are now five points back from the Crusaders and Chiefs, who are tied at the top of the New Zealand conference, but with the latter having played an extra game.

The game had been billed as a real blockbuster but it turned into one-way traffic with the Highlanders making it five in a row against the Chiefs.

The hosts were their own worst enemies in allowing the southerners the 13-3 halftime buffer which the visitors never looked like relinquishing.

The Chiefs were hampered further right on halftime when Charlie Ngatai was sin-binned for taking Elliot Dixon in the air. Referee Angus Gardner called for the assistance of TMO Shane McDermott, before waving a yellow card in what appeared a lottery between yellow and red. The fact Dixon didn't land on his head helped Ngatai's cause, but it's baffling why the outcome should affect the decision.

"It was interesting wasn't it," Joseph said. "If you go back to a week ago, it was exactly the same sort of thing, it was unintentional, it was careless and dangerous," he said in reference to Jason Emery's red card against the Sharks. "I guess the difference between the incident tonight and the one with Jason is that Elliot, fortunately, didn't fall on his head. But the criteria, I guess, is something you'll have to ask the refs."

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