Aaron Cruden assumes control as Chiefs assert their authority

All Black Aaron Cruden overcame a niggling Achilles tendon injury to kick 17 points as the Chiefs consolidated their place at the top of the Super Rugby standings with a 21-17 victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin.

Cruden kicked six goals from eight attempts and controlled play as the Chiefs proved the more clinical outfit in an intensely physical game in which they only just held off a late charge by the Highlanders.

The Chiefs were more fluent in attack than their opponents, who seldom broke the line until late in the game and whose goal-kicking – three from six – was also below par.

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The Chiefs scored after only two minutes when Williams made an incisive run down the centre and Tim Nanai-Williams was in support to score close to the posts. The visitors then led 10-6, with Aaron Cruden adding a penalty and Chris Noakes kicking two for the Highlanders. The Highlanders reduced the gap to one point before half-time when Noakes kicked his third penalty, but the Chiefs landed a telling blow just before the interval, when full-back Robinson scored after Kerr-Barlow, Williams and Brodie Retallick combined to put him in space. They rubbed salt into Highlanders wounds when they broke out from the kick-off and Cruden landed his second penalty to give them a 18-9 lead at the break.

The second spell started badly for the Highlanders when they infringed from the kick-off and Cruden kicked his third penalty to extend the buffer to 12. Noakes then missed with a penalty from just metres out and in front which would have cancelled that advantage.

A fight broke out among several players five minutes into the half after which Williams was penalised for a shoulder charge.

The Highlanders scored a minute later when Andrew Hore swooped on a scrappy line-out ball to crash over in a pile of bodies to reduce the deficit to one converted try.

Prop Toby Smith was almost over after a move which swept 90 metres as the Chiefs continued to threaten. They stretched their lead to 10 points when Cruden kicked his fourth penalty 16 minutes from time when Adam Thomson was offside and his fifth, from 35 metres, gave them a 13-point cushion.

But Gear smashed over for the Highlanders five minutes from the end, Delany converted and it was game on again, but the Chiefs held on.