It's not often the small community of Waihī is treated to Super Rugby action so it was no surprise to see a bumper crowd of 3869 pack out the local ground as the Chiefs hosted the Blues in their first preseason match of the year.
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• Super Rugby: Damian McKenzie returns to fullback in 35-man Chiefs squad for pre-season clash
• Chiefs: Young Bay of Plenty rugby talent selected for Chiefs Rugby Club player development pathway
• 2020 Super Rugby: Sam Cane set for shifting role as Chiefs work out loose forward puzzle
The big talking point was the return of All Black Damian McKenzie for the Chiefs, his first minutes since suffering a serious knee injury in April last year.
While the Chiefs were on the wrong side of the 26-19 scoreline, the fact that McKenzie got through his 20 minutes unscathed is a massive positive looking ahead to the Super Rugby season.
Speaking after the game, McKenzie said he loved every minute of being back on the field.
"I was really excited to get out there, it was a beautiful day for it. It's been a long time coming but it was just nice to get a bit of early ball and early contact. I've done a lot of work since my injury, a lot of rehab, and it's come back pretty strong."
He played at fullback where he looked lively and is likely to be playing this season with Aaron Cruden returning at first five.
"Obviously I'm focused on 15 at the moment and trying to cement a spot there, if I can focus on that and come into 10 when I need to that will be the ideal situation."
The Chiefs started the game strongly, dominating possession in the opening 10 minutes, inside Blues territory. However, the Blues passed their first defensive assignment of 2020 and held out multiple waves of attack.
Having absorbed the pressure the Blues worked their way up field and, to the disappointment of the Waihī faithful, drew first blood. Hooker Kurt Eklund, who plays Mitre 10 Cup for Bay of Plenty, crashed over from the back of a maul after a lineout 5m out.
The Blues had the momentum and set up camp inside Chiefs territory. After 31 minutes they were in for their second, Ezekiel Lindenmuth driving over from close range.
The Blues kept the pressure on and on the stroke of halftime extended their lead. After some good attacking play, into the Chiefs' 22m, they spread the ball left where fullback Matt Duffie broke through a tackle to score. The Blues led 19-0 at halftime.
It is nice in such a situation to be able to bring an All Black off the bench and the Chiefs did so. It took just minutes for McKenzie to demonstrate he had not lost his elusiveness, breaking a couple of tackles with his first carry.
He chimed in again as the Chiefs broke from about halfway, flicking a ball out the back of his hand to substitute first give Kaleb Trask who was tackled inside the Blues 22m. After some patient play in possession the Chiefs were on the board, Naitoa Ah Kuoi driving over under the posts. Trask converted to reduce the deficit to 7-19.
Having played a successful 20 minutes in his return, McKenzie was substituted back out for the final quarter. The Chiefs carried on with their comeback effort though, hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho scoring and Trask converting to make it 14-19.
With five minutes left to play the Chiefs' momentum was halted by a converted Blues try to Hoskins Sotutu to make it 26-14 to the away side.
The Chiefs hit back, Taukei'aho scoring his second, and it was game on as they trailed 19-26 with three minutes left.
The Chiefs piled the pressure on in the dying stages but could not break through, handing the Blues bragging rights until they meet again in round one.