Highlanders 23
Chiefs 19

The Dave Rennie era at the Chiefs began in frenetic but ultimately unsatisfying style tonight.

A patched-up Highlanders team was too good for the new-look Chiefs, using close to 20 minutes of uninterrupted possession in the second half to roll over the hosts.

Much was expected of the Chiefs with a new coaching staff and star recruits Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams on board, but there were fears about the lack of sting in their tight five and they proved well-founded.


The Chiefs had chances to win late in the game, but three embarrassing attempts at lineout drives sealed their fate.

There was little mystery about what the Chiefs were trying to do, the quick taps were a giveaway. They would use Fritz Lee and Liam Messam to punch holes in close before quickly stretching the Highlanders across Waikato Stadium.

With superior size and skill in the backs they knew they could exploit one-on-one situations.

When it worked like it did in the three phases leading up to Lelia Masaga's 14th minute try, a score that owed as much to Jimmy Cowan's turnover as it did the Chiefs' attack, it looked pretty.

Most times, however, the home side's ambition was not matched with their skills.

There are going to be times when the Chiefs give teams the run-around on Waikato Stadium, but there's going to be times of despair too as the million-dollar passes find the turf rather than a teammate's hands.

The home team looked relatively comfortable going into the break with a seven-point lead, but an inability to secure any possession for any meaningful length of time in the second half killed them.

The Highlanders looked to their bench for inspiration and got it. Aaron Smith replaced the strangely ineffectual Cowan and the game changed.

His try was the moment of transformation, even if it was a charge-down try to Phil Burleigh that finally took the visitors' into the lead.

Highlanders 23 (Aaron Smith, Phil Burleigh tries; Chris Noakes 3 pen 2 con), Chiefs 19 (Lelia Masaga try; Aaron Cruden 4 pen con). Halftime: 16-9.