Hit-out shows Chiefs on song to defend title
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has found no trouble in getting his players up for this Super Rugby season after last year's championship-winning efforts.
In the team's first pre-season hit-out of the year on Saturday the Chiefs showed some excellent signs, and it seems they won't be surrendering their title without a decent fight.
The 36-14 victory over the Highlanders at Owen Delany Park in Taupo was a fine way to start back from scratch six months after the heroic efforts of a maiden trophy.
"I was pretty impressed with what we saw today, the boys were very focused and obviously very determined, they're well aware that there was an opportunity today to sow seeds for selection come competition time," Rennie said.
"So everyone was pretty keen to put their hand up and have a crack."
The Chiefs' set piece was solid and their backline showed glimpses of how destructive they can be, as the hosts ran in five tries to two, while new first five-eighth recruit Gareth Anscombe slotted five from six off the tee to go with two tries for a haul of 21 points.
"The boys have been training for a long time and you get to the stage where you need to play, so it was good to have a decent hit-out under a bit of pressure," Rennie said.
"I think the work ethic was of a high level.
"Guys worked hard around the corner, certainly for the first chunk of the game we carried aggressively and we cleaned down and got some pretty fast ball and were able to apply a bit of pressure, so that was good.
"Defensively, we gave up a soft one at the end, but on the whole, we played a lot without the ball in that second half and the boys defended bloody well."
Rennie said getting that defence right at the start of the campaign is a key focus as it plays a major part in the way they play the game.
"It is, because we can attack a lot off our defence if we can get turnover ball."
Originally none of the Chiefs' All Blacks were going to get a run, however all bar Liam Messam did get some minutes on the field near the end as little injuries came into play. Prop Ben Afeaki looked the worst casualty as he hobbled off in the second 20-minute quarter and had ice applied to his knee, but there were no other serious injury concerns to come out of the game.
Nevertheless, Rennie said there were "a lot of areas" he wanted tidied up, as the Chiefs head into their second pre-season match, against the Reds in the Sunshine Coast on Friday night.
He felt they can launch even better from their set pieces, not give away so many penalties, get the backs and forwards combination linking better, as well as getting the pack to create more go-forward.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes edged out the Crusaders 27-26 in Timaru and the Blues went down to the Reds 41-35 in Toowoomba.
The Brumbies got home 20-18 against the Force in Darwin, while Israel Folau scored two tries and conceded a yellow card in the Waratahs' 24-16 win over the Rebels in Hobart.
The Bulls beat the Lions 38-32 in Soweto and the Cheetahs pipped the Stormers 27-26 in Bloemfontein.