If the defending Super 15 champions thought they would be able to pick up where they left off last year, the Chiefs were given a good reminder today that it doesn't work like that.
They might have beaten the Hurricanes 25-21 in their final pre-season match at Mangatainoka but it's fair to say the Tui beer was flowing more easily than the rugby. Dave Rennie's side led 10-0 at halftime and 17-0 early in the second half but had to withstand a strong Hurricanes fightback to cling on for a narrow win.
The Hurricanes might even have fancied their chances of victory when they reduced the gap to 22-21 with 10 minutes remaining but former Blues first five-eighths Gareth Anscombe, playing at fullback, slotted a penalty to settle the result.
"I think we got a little of a hurry-up today,'' Chiefs assistant coach Andrew Strawbridge said. "The Hurricanes were pretty organised and we have been sent away with a little bit to think about, which is not a bad thing.''
The Chiefs open their season in Dunedin on Friday against a Highlanders outfit who have recruited well in the off-season and last year's winners will also have to do it with a few of their backs missing.
Andrew Horrell (foot) is out for a few weeks, Charlie Ngati is struggling with a groin injury and Richard Kahui also underwent shoulder surgery recently to clean up the shoulder he injured last year and is battling to be fit for the first game. Robbie Robinson also missed today's match and Brendon Leonard is out for another four weeks with a fractured cheekbone.
It saw Tim Nanai-Williams start at centre against the Hurricanes and he showed some promise, scoring the Chiefs' last of their four tries.
"Tim had some really bright patches today and did some really good things and we are a little bit thin in the midfield,'' said Strawbridge, who was also impressed with the set-piece. "It was important for us that Tim had a game there today and it went reasonably well.''
It didn't go quite so well for the Hurricanes in the first half. The Chiefs took advantage of a strong wind as well as a handful of Hurricanes' errors in bad areas, scoring tries to Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett made a handful of changes in the second spell, with the likes of Ardie Savea and Brad Shields prominent, and it helped them claw their way back into the game as they played at a higher tempo.
"They are a world-class defensive side and we should have scored about three tries [in first half] but we were playing into the wind and that was a big factor,'' said Hammett. "But we're an extremely fit side and we were able to wear them down in the second half and I was pleased with our structure.''
He would also have been buoyed by the sight of captain Conrad Smith playing his first match of the season and the All Blacks centre was typically classy playing alongside Tim Bateman.
"It was my first hit-out of the season and it was nice to get a bit of a roll on, but I did underestimate how strong the wind was and how it would affect the game,'' Smith said. "In the first half we tried to kick the ball out of our 22 a lot and it just didn't work.''
The Hurricanes open their campaign against the Blues in Wellington next Saturday.
Hurricanes 21 (Julian Savea, Ardie Savea, Faifili Levave tires; James Marshall 2 cons, Beauden Barrett con) Chiefs 25 (Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Bundee Aki, Tim Nanai-Williams tries; Gareth Anscombe pen, con). HT: 0-10.
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