Chiefs make winning start against Highlanders
The Chiefs have carried straight on from where they left off, with the defending Super Rugby champions running out convincing winners in their first pre-season match of the season against the Highlanders in Taupo.
On the back of some solid set piece work and some slick back play the Chiefs put on five tries and won the match 36-14 in hot and sunny conditions at Owen Delany Park.
The Chiefs gave All Blacks Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane a run in the last 10 minutes, while Aaron Cruden and Tawera Kerr-Barlow featured nearer the end, with Liam Messam not used.
Meanwhile, the Highlanders side featured three players from the end of year tour - Hosea Gear, who was captain, as well as Ben Smith and Aaron Smith, though the latter spent the entire match on the bench.
Fellow prominent All Blacks Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu weren't taken to Taupo, while Tamati Ellison was missing as he's recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and regular skipper Andrew Hore is serving a suspension.
Brad Thorn made his return to New Zealand rugby after his time with the Fukuoka Sanix Blues in Japan and Leinster in Ireland, and got through a solid half of work.
The Chiefs were able to dominate proceedings, having the better of possession and territory throughout and taking the majority of their chances.
The only points of the first 20-minute quarter came right on the quarter break when Chiefs fullback Tim Nanai-Williams was put through a yawning gap, showing great pace and a nice swerve before unloading to first-five eighth Gareth Anscombe to dot down.
Anscombe, in his first outing for the Chiefs after being unwanted at the Blues, converted to give the hosts a 7-0 lead at the break.
The Chiefs opened the scoring in the second spell, with a couple of penalties gifting them good field position, before winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma showed strength to muscle over down the blind side.
Just three minutes later the Highlanders opened their account through a fantastic try, finished by Gear, following some beautiful quick hands which stretched the Chiefs' defence on the left.
The home side hit back when halfback Augustine Pulu took a quick tap from a five-metre scrum free kick and caught the Highlanders' defence napping.
Despite having prop Ben Afeaki come from the field with a knee complaint, the Chiefs had the better of the remainder of the second quarter, and Anscombe added a penalty before halftime to give his side a 22-7 buffer.
Both teams made wholesale changes at halftime and just three minutes into the third stanza the Chiefs extended their lead, when No 8 Fritz Lee scored off the back of a powerful surge by the pack.
Anscombe added the extras to make it 29-7 and that's the way it stayed till the three-quarter break after some solid defence from the Highlanders prevented the hosts from adding to their tally.
The visitors spent plenty of time in the Chiefs' half in the final quarter but some impressive defence from the hosts kept their line intact.
A blistering break from Tikoirotuma set up Anscombe for his double and he converted to finish with a haul of 21 points, before the Highlanders scored in the corner right on fulltime through Tony Ensor.
The Chiefs next face the Reds on the Sunshine Coast on Friday night, while the Highlanders host the Crusaders in Oamaru on Friday afternoon.
Chiefs 36 (Gareth Anscombe (2), Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Augustine Pulu, Fritz Lee tries; Gareth Anscombe 4 con, pen. Highlanders 14 (Hosea Gear, Tony Ensor tries; Lima Sopoaga 2 con)
Meanwhile in Timaru, the Hurricanes shrugged off the loss of star wing Cory Jane to a season-ending knee injury to sneak a 27-26 win over the Crusaders.
The Hurricanes had to overcome a slow start, down 19-5 midway through the first of four 20-minute quarters.
A late intercept try to Tim Bateman earning the Hurricanes the win after the out-scored the home team five tries to four.
Hurricanes 27 (James Marshall, Ash Dixon, Jason Eaton, Papa Wharewera, Tim Bateman tries; Taylor 1 con) Crusaders 26 (Shane Christie, Kieran Fonotia, Codie Taylor, Tom Marshall tries; Tyler Blyendaal 2 con, Tyrone Elkington 1 con) HT 15-19