The Chiefs are up and running in Super Rugby Pacific after holding on for a deserved 26-16 victory over the Highlanders at Wakatipu Rugby Park.
The Highlanders entered this game knowing they had beaten the Chiefs at home in five of the last six matches between the two teams in Super Rugby, but there would be no repeat this time around as the hosts outscored the visitors three tries to one.
An early penalty from new signing Josh Ioane after the Highlanders strayed offside put the Chiefs in front, although Mitch Hunt quickly returned the favour for the Highlanders following a Chiefs infringement at the ruck.
Another penalty a few minutes later saw the Highlanders take the lead, but the Chiefs would score the first try of the match just a few minutes later after Xavier Roe broke the line and handed it off to Alex Nankivell, whose inside pass freed Sam Cane for the score. Ioane added the extras as the Chiefs took a 10-6 lead.
Tony Brown's side continued to be on the defensive for most of the first half, with the Chiefs dominating territory and possession. Shortly after the half-hour mark, the home side added three more points following another breakdown infringement to stretch their lead to seven.
Just before half-time, the Chiefs stretched their lead even further following another line break, this time down the blindside from No 8 Gus Sowakula, who took full advantage of a collapsed scrum to avoid both his opposite number and Highlanders No 9 Aaron Smith for the score. The conversion was wide but the Chiefs still took a healthy 18-6 lead into the break.
An early breakdown penalty at the start of the second half saw the visitors reduce the deficit, but the Chiefs would deliver another hammer blow in the 48th minute courtesy of a sublime attacking move.
Sowakula started the action by running into a gap down the right-hand side, before Shaun Stevenson and Sam Cane got involved to keep the move alive. Eventually, the ball found Emoni Narawa, who played a quick one-two with Brodie Retallick to create the overlap and score in the corner.
That put the Chiefs in firm control of the contest, though with 12 minutes to play, the Highlanders handed themselves a lifeline when, just moments after having a potential try chalked off by the TMO, they hit straight back from a five-metre scrum feed to the Highlanders, turning over possession via a penalty and kicking for touch before sending the ball out wide and staying patient for a number of phases to score a try via Daniel Lienert-Brown.
That brought them back to within seven points after Hunt's conversion, but with five minutes to play, the Chiefs embarked on an attack that lasted all of 17 phases and ended with a kickable penalty right in front, Bryn Gatland slotting it over to put the match beyond the Highlanders and secure the victory.
Tries: Sam Cane, Gus Sowakula, Emoni Narawa
Conversions: Josh Ioane.
Penalties: Josh Ioane (2), Bryn Gatland.
Tries: Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Conversions: Mitch Hunt.
Penalties: Mitch Hunt (3).