Chiefs run away with win over Stormers
At this early stage of the season it doesn't get much more emphatic.
Late strikes ruined a glossy finish but there were clear signs the Chiefs will, once again, set the benchmark this year.
Extending their 2014 unbeaten run to three matches, the Chiefs produced a dominant 36-20 win over the Stormers in Hamilton.
While three New Zealand teams struggle through the gears and one stagnates in neutral, the Chiefs reminded everyone of their attacking prowess and immense depth.
It wasn't perfect - wayward passes, blown chances and ill-discipline stunted momentum - but their hard-grafting forwards and fleet-footed backs simply blew away the tiring, one-dimensional tourists.
Fortune favours the adventurous.
After wins over the Crusaders and Highlanders, this five-try bonus point victory is a rosy way to come back from the bye and start a nine-match run.
A trip to Perth next week, followed by the South African leg, is now much less daunting.
The 14,088 locals walked away knowing their team's pursuit of a third successive title is in good hands; the competition realised this outfit will take some beating.
Dave Rennie will have concerns around centre Charlie Ngatai, who limped off in the 27th minute with a calf complaint, but Robbie Fruean wasn't a bad replacement. And All Blacks centurion Mills Muliana was in the stands in his dress shirt.
The Chiefs will rightly toast Tanerau Latimer's 100th Super Rugby match. The humble Bay of Plenty veteran deserves every accolade and fittingly got to celebrate by scoring the final try.
But it was the Tasman lads who stole the show and spoiled the evening for Springboks captain Jean de Villiers, who also brought up his century.
In their first starts, rookie No.8 Liam Squire and wing James Lowe were the latest to seem immediately comfortable at this level. That's not true of all inexperienced players, but it's sure a growing trend under the guidance of the coaching staff at the Chiefs.
Squire's physical presence, work-rate and offloading abilities were prominent while Lowe made the most of frequent space down the left-hand edge, scoring the opening try after Tasman team-mate Tom Marshall re-gathered a grubber from the back of his boot. It was freakish stuff.
It goes to show how distant Super Rugby has become from provincial boundaries, when two blokes from Nelson run rampant for a Hamilton-based franchise. But also further highlights the nous behind the Chiefs recruitment.
With Aaron Cruden taking the ball flat and putting the Stormers on the backfoot, the Chiefs constantly stretched the visitor's defence.
Last week, the Crusaders found the South African's systems near unbreakable. The Chiefs had no such trouble. Their fast paced high-tempo game had the limited Africans falling off countless tackles. In the first half Dave Rennie's men turned down three shots at goal. Quick taps and lethal counter attack from the back-three were the favoured, successful approach.
A one-two punch - tries before and after half-time to Marshall and Tawera Kerr-Barlow - delivered the Stormers the knockout blow. Tim Nanai-Williams set-up his halfback and was hungry for work throughout.
The Stormers stuck late through wing Gio Aplon and replacement Nizaam Carr but the fightback was futile, with Latimer and openside Tevita Koloamatangi delivering the exclamation mark.
It's now a long trip back to Cape Town for the Stormers. They won't look forward to stops in Canberra and Brisbane.
Chiefs 36 (James Lowe, Tom Marshall, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Tevita Koloamatangi, Tanerau Latimer tries 2 Aaron Cruden pen, con 4) Stormers (Gio Aplon, Nizaam Carr tries Demetri Catrakilis pen 2, Peter Grant con 2)