A strong first-half performance helped the Chiefs to an opening 23-18 victory over the Blues at QBE Stadium in Albany on Saturday.
Two moments of Chiefs brilliance in the opening 40 minutes proved vital in the end as the hosts upped their game after the break and pushed the Hamilton side all the way. But they couldn't get the win as the Chiefs made it now eight victories in a row against the Blues.
The Chiefs were outstanding in that first-half as their tempo and fluidity with ball in hand for a first game of the campaign was brilliant. Sonny Bill Williams of course played a role in that but mentions must also be given to fly-half Damian McKenzie and left wing James Lowe.
It would, however, be the Blues first on the board when two Chiefs forwards encroached at the tail of a line-out to hand Ihaia West the shot for three points. He duly obliged with four minutes on the clock but that was about as good as it got for the home side in the half.
Lowe opened the game's try account seven minutes later with a quite brilliant finish down the left sideline. McKenzie landed the extra two.
Williams, like the aforementioned duo, was beginning to grow into the game and when his pass found Bryce Heem – a late call for Tim Nanai- Williams – for a clean run-in on the opposite side of the field, suddenly the Chiefs were 14-3 to the good with less than a quarter gone.
McKenzie was relishing his opportunity in the ten jersey due to Aaron Cruden's absence and his kicking off the tee was high-class, landing two difficult penalty goals to go with those wide conversions. Fortunately for the Blues, West was replying to keep them in touch at 20-9.
And it was for that reason the Blues will have been buoyed going into the sheds as eleven points was easily recoverable if they shored up their outside defence. They had also been warned that any offences would be punished by pivot McKenzie, who looks a hot prospect this year.
West was also on-target in Albany and continued his 100 percent record in the 43rd minute, which coincided with Chiefs second-rower Matt Symons being shown yellow for not rolling away. Thus came a chance for the Blues to further eat into what was now an eight-point margin.
McKenzie quickly saw to that though with a penalty four minutes later before West struck again just before the hour mark to make it 23-15. Fortunately for the Blues, McKenzie missed an effort from a scrum penalty minutes later as the Blues sent on the influential Luke Braid for Jerome Kaino.
West did manage to bring the Blues back to within one score of winning when he landed another three points on 70 minutes but in the end the Chiefs held on comfortably in the home side's half as they start with four points.
Pen: West 6
Tries: Lowe, Heem
Con: McKenzie 2
Pen: McKenzie 3
Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Charles Piutau, 13 Hamish Northcot, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino (c), 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Luke Braid, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Ben Lam.
Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Johan Bardoul, 5 Mike Fitzgerald, 4 Matt Symons (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Kane McBride