Chiefs make big statement in opening round

19:38, Feb 25 2013
Chiefs v Highlanders
Liam Messam tries to avoid the tackle of Ma'a Nonu during his side's opening round win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Patrick Osborne dives over for a try against the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Tawera Kerr-Barlow clears the ball during the Chiefs' win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Gareth Anscombe gets caught in a tackle on his Chiefs debut against the Highlanders.
Gareth Anscombe
Gareth Anscombe goes over to score for the Chiefs against the Cheetahs.
Tim Nanai-Williams
Tim Nanai-Williams tries to evade a tackler.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam on the charge.
Brodie Retallick
Brodie Retallick gets an offload away.
Chiefs
Stormers wing Bryan Habana is tackled during the Super Rugby match between DHL Stormers and the Chiefs.
Sam Cane gallery
Sam Cane charges headlong into the Stormers' defence.
Tanerau Latimer
Tanerau Latimer looks to spread the ball wide.
Liam Messam
Liam Messam charges ahead for the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Kings
Andrew Horrell makes a break for the Chiefs during their bonus point win over the Southern Kings.
Chiefs v Kings
Lelia Masaga makes a run during his triple-try scoring effort against the Kings.
Chiefs v Kings
Hika Elliot in action against the Southern Kings.
Chiefs v Kings
Liam Messam gets his side fired up during his 100th Super Rugby game for the Chiefs against the Southern Kings.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Liam Messam receives a greenstone mere from former Chiefs coach Ian Foster during a special presentation to celebrate his 100th game for the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Liam Messam fans show some love for the Chiefs co-captain's 100th game celebrations.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Richard Kahui makes a break in his return for the Chiefs during their win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Aaron Cruden fends off Highlanders counterpart Colin Slade.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Tim Nanai-Williams is congratulated after scoring the Chiefs' only try in their win over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Andrew Horrell comes up just short in his dive for the try line.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Michael Fitzgerald of the Chiefs charges forward during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Richard Kahui of the Chiefs dives over to score a try during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Aaron Cruden with the ball during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Chiefs 2013 Season
Richard Kahui on the charge during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Blues at Bay Park.
Quade Cooper
The Reds' Quade Cooper is tackled by the Chiefs' Aaron Cruden during their clash in Hamilton.
Bundee Aki
Chief Bundee Aki goes over to score a try against the Reds in Hamilton.
Chiefs gallery
Gareth Anscombe streaks away from the Waratahs defence.
Chiefs gallery
Sitaleki Timani receives a yellow card.
Chiefs gallery
Aaron Cruden spins it wide against the Waratahs.
Chiefs gallery
The Chiefs huddle under the posts after conceding a try to the Waratahs.
Chiefs v Sharks
Bundee Aki dives over for a try during the Chiefs win over the Sharks at Waikato Stadium.
Chiefs v Sharks
Asaeli Tikoirotuma attempts to break through a Sharks tackle.
Chiefs v Sharks
Ben Tameifuna on the charge against the Sharks.
Chiefs v Sharks
Liam Messam helps carry the load against the Sharks in Hamilton.
Chiefs
Gareth Anscombe goes in to score against the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs
Sam Cane (second from left) is congratulated by team-mates after scoring against the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs
Brendon Leonard (right) takes on his opposite number Nick Phipps of the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs
Bundee Aki celebrates after scoring a try against the Melbourne Rebels.
Chiefs season 2013
Robbie Robinson of the Chiefs competes for a high ball against Kyle Godwin of the Force.
Chiefs season 2013
Ben McCalman of the Force is tackled by Matt Vant Leven during their Round 13 Super Rugby clash.
Chiefs season 2013
Brett Sheehan watches the Force and Chiefs packs contest a scrum.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Tawera Kerr-Barlow spins it wide against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Liam Messam charges into the gap for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Prop Ben Afeaki charges into the open for the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013 gallery
Aaron Cruden gets a kick away under pressure from Hurricanes lock Ben May.
Chiefs gallery
Aaron Cruden goes in to score the opening try against the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery
Tanerau Latimer (left) and Tawera Kerr-Barlow wrap up George Whitelock of the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery
Robbie Robinson in action against the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery
Liam Messam charges ahead against the Crusaders.
Chiefs gallery 2013
A see of Chiefs flags welcomes the NZ conference leaders ahead of their game against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs gallery 2013
Matt Vant Leven climbs high to win a lineout against the Hurricanes.
Chiefs gallery 2013
Tim Nanai-Williams attempts to bust through the Hurricanes defence.
Chiefs gallery 2013
Lelia Masaga makes a break against the Hurricanes, with Matt Vant Leven in support.
Chiefs 2013
Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs runs with the ball into defender Tom Marshall of the Crusaders during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs runs with the ball during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013
Aseli Tikoirotuma of the Chiefs celebrates his try with Ben Tameifuna during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Chiefs 2013
Ross Filipo of the Chiefs tackles Dan Carter of the Crusaders after a kick in the Crusaders in goal during the round 19 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Blues
Andrew Horrell in action for the Chiefs in their regular season finale win over the Blues.
Chiefs v Blues
Ben Tameifuna on the charge for the Chiefs.
Chiefs v Blues
Bundee Aki scores at full stretch against the Blues.
Chiefs v Blues
Aaron Cruden converts a try during the Chiefs' win over the Blues.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Liam Messam takes on the Crusaders defence.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Lelia Masaga has a cut at the Crusaders defence.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Asaeli Tikoirotuma is downed by Owen Franks.
Chiefs vs Crusaders
Fans in full voice as the Chiefs take on the Crusaders.

JK's Baby Blues may have been the feelgood story of the opening weekend proper of Super Rugby, but for me it was the Chiefs who made the biggest statement.

The defending champs, with their emphatic 41-27 victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin, laid down a mightily impressive marker. They said to every other team in this competition: "The title runs through us again this year - come and get it if you're good enough."

Not that the Blues didn't scratch their own line in the sand with their 34-20 victory over the Hurricanes in the capital (so much for home advantage, huh?). Sir John Kirwan's new-look and largely inexperienced team showed exactly the outfit they're going to be in 2013, and that's one who will make you pay if you give them too many looks.

Tanerau Latimer
CHIEFS ON TOP: Tanerau Latimer of the Chiefs fends off new Highlander Tony Woodcock.

Let me just preface discussions by pointing out it's only week one (not counting that little Aussie preamble), and no firm conclusions can be drawn at this stage of a season that doesn't finish until August.

Last year the Chiefs and Sharks both lost in week one, and ended up finalists. To further emphasise the analogy, the Chiefs dropped their first game at home to the Highlanders - and we all know how it worked out in the end for those two sides.

It's early days, but at least we have some real rugby to talk about, and definitely some topics to discuss at the water cooler.

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Let's start with the Chiefs. Theirs was a special performance first up, all things considered.

The champs were down to their third string hooker and were absent a gaggle of backline stalwarts, including Brendon Leonard, Richard Kahui, Andrew Horrell and Robbie Robinson.

They had to move a sickly Tim Nanai-Williams into centre and new recruit Gareth Anscombe to fullback. Both had barely played their respective positions hitherto. Hooker Rhys Marshall had not even played provincial rugby, let alone started a game at this level. Just to compound matters Aaron Cruden is working through groin issues, and is effectively running with the handbrake on.

Never mind. The Chiefs are brilliantly coached, and it seems like whomever they send out, they're going to get 15 guys coming together in pretty unified fashion.

They also clearly have some fabulous depth, and that is going to be vital as this competition plays out. Nanai-Williams can play centre, wing or fullback, they've got veteran loosie Tanerau Latimer backing up the special Sam Cane, they've got locks and props who are pretty interchangeable, three excellent halfbacks and a ton of options all over their backline.

They had a pretty stirring sort of contest against the Highlanders for the first three quarters but when the game went on the line the Chiefs simply blasted the southerners off the park.

Their set piece is solid, their loose trio are athletic and busy and can tackle, and they have backs who understand the value of turned over possession, and are good enough to do something with it.

The Chiefs won't be getting carried away with anything at this stage, but even Rennie had to admit afterwards it was a pretty bloody good performance from his men. They are much, much better, he added, than they were at this stage last season.

The Blues' shock win at the Cake Tin was huge for them. The confidence they will have got from that - never mind the thousands it will have added to their gate for Friday night at Eden Park - is inestimable.

They really faced some adversity when Frank Halai was rather harshly pinged for a penalty try and yellow card in a pretty fair two-man tussle with Julian Savea for the ball.

Down a man, and the lead, heading into the final quarter, it could easily have gone pear-shaped for such a young team. Instead they produced the perfect response, rallying splendidly, and then striking twice in the last 10 minutes to seal the deal.

But I hope the Blues adopt the Breakers' approach to things. "Never get too high on the wins, or too low on the losses," is a constant mantra from the hoopers out at Atlas Place and I'm sure the knights, Sirs JK and Ted, will be working hard to keep feet on the ground this week.

The Blues forwards were strong and direct and the backline is full of game-breakers. The likes of Francis Saili, Rene Ranger, Charles Piutau and Frank Halai look capable of causing some serious damage this season.

But they would be wise to acknowledge how poorly the Hurricanes played, and accept they will not be afforded similar luxuries by the Crusaders on Friday night when we're likely to get a truer indication of the strength of these Blues.

Of the two losing sides, the Highlanders will take forth the most hope, though the loss of No 8 Nasi Manu to a serious foot injury is another blow to their resources.

Andrew Hore and Brad Thorn will make a huge difference to Jamie Joseph's pack, and they also look like they need Colin Slade's nous in the pivot. Somehow they've got to find a loose trio to do the business.

The Canes can surely only get better after opening with a shambolic effort. They showed in that second half what not to do against the Blues.

And the rest: Jake White's Brumbies have made a nice start across the ditch, while the Bulls had the most notable victory in the Republic. And the Kings are away though their win (over the Force) maybe said more about the weakness of their opponents than the strength of the new chums.

Fairfax Media