Feb 22 (Reuters) - Tim Nanai-Williams grabbed a brace as Waikato Chiefs made a winning start to their Super Rugby title defence with a 41-27 bonus point victory over Otago Highlanders in a seven-try thriller on Friday.
The centre crossed once in each half and wingers Patrick Osborne and Asaeli Tikoirotuma also got on the scoreboard, while debutant Chiefs fullback Gareth Anscombe added 21 points with an almost perfect display of kicking.
The Highlanders, roared on by a passionate crowd under the roof of the Otago Regional Stadium, held the lead three times in an engaging contest but in the end tries from their back three - Ben Smith, Hosea Gear and Kade Poki - were not enough.
"Across the board, we'll be a little disappointed to have let in a few tries but we've got a hell of an exciting team so hence we scored a few points," said Chiefs skipper Craig Clarke.
Nanai-Williams's breakaway second score after 65 minutes proved decisive as he pounced on a dropped ball to turn tryline pressure from the Highlanders into a bonus point for the Chiefs with a simple shimmy and a sprint down the touchline.
Playing in a midfield shorn of the departed Sonny Bill Williams, his first try after 14 minutes was just as simple as he accelerated into a gap left by an overly keen Ma'a Nonu before goose-stepping to round Highlanders full back Ben Smith.
Smith had moments earlier scored the pick of the home side's tries when, in one movement, he picked up a pass from his boot laces and twisted through the air past three tacklers to touch down under the posts.
"Little bit disappointed but I'm proud of the way the boys hung in there," said Highlanders skipper Gear. "It just got away from us in the end there and all credit to the Chiefs, I think they played really well."
Anscombe, picked up by the Chiefs after being dumped by the Auckland Blues, scored the first points of the match with his opening penalty and the last with his fifth, adding three of four conversions to cap an impressive debut. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)