Auckland- Former Wales coach Warren Gatland celebrated his Super Rugby debut with a telling victory on Friday as his Chiefs fought back with four second-half tries to beat the Blues 37-29.
As it happened | Blues v Chiefs
Aaron Cruden, back in New Zealand after three years with Montpellier, was a key difference when he came off the bench after the break to turn the Chiefs' fortunes around in the season opener of the southern hemisphere club championship at Eden Park.
After a revitalised Blues side had controlled the first half, leading 19-5 at the turn, it was Cruden's ability to get the Chiefs' backline moving, with Anton Lienert-Brown also coming off the bench to add punch, that saw the visitors climb back into the game.
"They threw everything at us in the first half and we were just hanging in there, then our bench came on and made an impact in that second half," captain Sam Cane said, adding they received a clear message from Gatland at half-time.
"It was about eliminating a few errors and getting down the right end of the park. To our credit, every time we got into their 22 we looked like we were going to score points, and I'm stoked the way we pulled it off," Cane said.
The Blues have finished last in the New Zealand conference for the past six seasons but looked a changed unit in the first half when they out-muscled the Chiefs and showed enterprise with three tries.
The first, by Tony Lamborn, came from a one-handed overhead pass by TJ Faiane, while slick passing between Jonathan Ruru and Stephen Perofeta opened up the Chiefs defence for Rieko Ioane to score the second, and Ioane scored the third by crashing through three would-be tacklers.
Chiefs hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho, who scored their sole first-half try, bagged a second soon after the resumption and was followed over the line by Pita Sowakula as the visitors wiped out the deficit within 10 minutes of the break.
Rival props Karl Tu'inukuafe and Aidan Ross traded tries to keep the scores level at 26-26, before Cruden put Solomon Alaimalo over for the Chiefs' fifth try and added a drop goal and penalty.
The Blues' only response in the dying stages was a penalty by Harry Plummer.
The Chiefs picked up four points for their victory to take the early lead in the New Zealand Conference and the Overall log. The Blues left empty-handed.
In next weekend's Round 2 action, the Chiefs host the Crusaders in Hamilton (Saturday, February 8 at 08:05 SA time), while the Blues travel to Newcastle to face the Waratahs (Saturday, February 8 at 10:15 SA time).
15 Matt Duffie, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Tony Lamborn, 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Tom Robinson, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Alex Hodgman
Substitutes: 16 Ray Niuia, 17 Karl Tu'inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tuungafasi, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Blake Gibson, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Emoni Narawa
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Quinn Tupaea, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Kaleb Trask, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Sam Cane (captain), 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Samisoni Taukei'aho, 1 Aidan Ross
Substitutes: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Pita Gus Sowakula, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown