Leaving so much star power on the bench was always a healthy gamble for the Chiefs, but their victory over the Blues to start the season is also a plus for mental fortitude.

A 32-point comeback led large in part by veteran Aaron Cruden had the Chiefs respond to a two-try deficit to run out 37-29 winners on Friday, and it should answer the question of whether the team can perform at a higher intensity when facing scoreboard pressure and niggling health adversity.

The biggest battle for the Chiefs in round one was how they were going to adapt, not only to the limited number of minutes some key leaders could play, but some late injuries and also how to ensure that the changes they've made in how they prepare for games actually pays off.

That's not easy to do when you're required to make changes late in the buildup, but it's also what is required at this level.


Friday's win, in the end, left nobody questioning that the Chiefs back their system and can also embrace change, something that was clearly welcome after the Colin Cooper era which came to an ugly end last year.

The Chiefs is also the right environment for Aaron Cruden in particular. Nobody should question that. His impact was immediately noticeable, so much so it's as if he had never left.

A clear ability to manipulate space created the time that the Chiefs backline needed to be set alight. This is one of the big plus factors of what Cruden brings back to the side and should continue to deliver if he can stay fit.

The 31-year-old relished the pace of Super Rugby and was pleased to deliver not only the value but also the guidance he knew Chiefs coaches were looking to him for.

"The pace out there was fast but that's a style of rugby I love and I thought we showed some grit and determination to pull it out in the second half", Cruden said.

"Obviously I wanted to be the general to organise the team toward playing in the right areas of the field".

But it wasn't just about Cruden and his brilliance, it was the ability shown by the Chiefs as a unit to stick to their systems despite enduring an opening stanza where they failed to fire much of a shot at all.

Warren Gatland stressed a simple message to the team in the sheds at the break, knowing the class that his five All Blacks would bring off the bench.


"We shot ourselves in the foot early so the message was about being accurate, reduce the turnovers and keep the pill to get back into the game", Gatland said.

"From there it was about that mental battle. We needed players being more vocal and we couldn't be afraid to play for territory in an attempt to squeeze the Blues when they tried to run the ball back".

Four second half tries were scored and despite some issues at scrum time that will need resolving this week, the forwards were just as influential as their speedy counterparts close to the try line as they scored four of the five tries on the night, including a Samasoni Taukeiaho double.

But, it's only week one. All Black players will have to be managed again and it's the Crusaders next, so the next test, arguably the biggest test, for the mental fortitude that was on display in Auckland won't have to wait for long.

What's more, Gatland is right in his feeling that his side is still slightly underdone. There are still injury concerns, Damian McKenzie is a very outside chance to play against the Crusaders and will be pulled from contention if he doesn't pull up well early in the week.

There are also some slight concerns for Angus Ta'avao with concussion symptoms as well as Nepo Laulala with a leg issue.