Chiefs dominate scoring in hot pre-season hit-out
The Chiefs have laid down a fine blueprint for the year after a convincing display in their first pre-season Super Rugby outing on Saturday.
With expectations high on the defending champions living up to their hype from last season, the Chiefs began 2013 on the right note, with a 36-14 win over the Highlanders at Owen Delany Park in Taupo.
Solid set piece foundations paved the way for the backs to show some slick moves as the hosts dominated the majority of the contest, which was played in fine and breezy conditions.
The Chiefs ended up giving All Blacks Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Aaron Cruden and Tawera Kerr-Barlow a run late in the piece, though Liam Messam was 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, like Messam, 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 in Japan and Ireland, and got through a solid half of work.
However, the Chiefs were able to dominate proceedings, having the better of possession and territory throughout and taking the majority of their chances in the game which was played over four 20-minute quarters.
The only points of the first stanza came right on quarter time 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.
After a couple of penalties gifted them good field position, the hosts opened the second spell scoring, with winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma showing strength to muscle over down the blind side.
The Highlanders hit back through a fantastic try, finished by Gear, following some beautiful quick hands which stretched the defence on the left, before the home side replied when halfback Augustine Pulu took a quick tap from a five-metre scrum free kick and caught the Highlanders' defence napping.
Anscombe added a penalty before halftime to give his side a 22-7 buffer.
Both teams made wholesale changes at the long break 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 on fulltime through Tony Ensor.
Anscombe's five from six with the boot, as well as his all-round play was a major positive, and the 21-year-old will be extremely good back up to Cruden or otherwise be fitted in around him somehow.
He linked with Pulu for the first 50 minutes of the contest and the third-string halfback was delighted to have him on his shoulder.
"It was my first time playing with him and he made my job a bit easier," Pulu said. "He's got a good voice outside me and [I was] just running off him so it's great having him in my team as well." Pulu, who debuted in Super Rugby last season, made a fine claim for more game time, after a snappy, energetic showing.
"It was pretty hard out there in the lungs and stuff but we caught our second wind and then carried on from there," he said.
"I was pretty happy with a couple of keys, just getting to the rucks and moving that ball.
"I've just got to wait until the review with the coaches and see if they're happy," Pulu said.
"I've got two great halfbacks [in Kerr-Barlow and Brendon Leonard] and I'm just learning from them and I'm just trying to work on my game and trying to get a spot in the 22, but other than that I've just got take the opportunities that are given to me."
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)