WELLINGTON (AFP) – Former Wales coach Warren Gatland celebrated his Super Rugby debut with a telling victory yesterday as his Waikato Chiefs fought back with four second-half tries to beat the Auckland Blues 37-29.
Aaron Cruden was a key difference when he came off the bench after the break to turn the Chiefs’ fortunes around in the season opener of the southern hemisphere club championship at Eden Park.
After a revitalised Blues side had controlled the first half, leading 19-5 at the turn, it was Cruden’s ability to get the Chiefs’ backline moving, with Anton Lienert-Brown also coming off the bench to add punch, that saw the visitors climb back into the game.
“They threw everything at us in the first half and we were just hanging in there, then our bench came on and made an impact in that second half,” captain Sam Cane said, adding they received a clear message from Gatland at half-time.
“It was about eliminating a few errors and getting down the right end of the park. To our credit, every time we got into their 22 we looked like we were going to score points, and I’m stoked the way we pulled it off,” Cane said.
The Blues have been last in the New Zealand conference for the past six seasons but looked a changed unit in the first half when they out-muscled the Chiefs and showed enterprise with three tries.
The first, by Tony Lamborn, came from a one-handed overhead pass by TJ Faiane, while slick passing between Jonathan Ruru and Stephen Perofeta opened up the Chiefs defence for Rieko Ioane to score the second, and Ioane scored the third by crashing through three would-be tacklers.