Damian McKenzie scored 13 points on debut to guide the Chiefs to a 23-18 victory over the Blues in Albany on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Much was expected of Sonny Bill Williams on his return to Vodacom Super Rugby, and the versatile Chiefs centre certainly did not disappoint. Williams was prominent in the buildup to the Chiefs' two tries, using his otherworldly handling skills to set up James Lowe and then Bryce Heem.
That said, it was the man on Williams's inside who stole the show. The 19-year-old McKenzie controlled the game well from flyhalf, and converted five of his seven attempts on goal.
The Blues remained in the contest thanks to the goal-kicking of their own flyhalf, Ihaia West. Three penalties ensured that the Blues trailed by just 20-9 at half-time.
The hosts had another opportunity to hit back at the start of the second half. Chiefs captain Matt Symons was yellow-carded for a cynical breakdown infringement, and the Blues should have piled on the points in his absence.
But a West penalty was soon cancelled out when McKenzie goaled another three-pointer for the Chiefs. When Symons returned from the sin bin, the Chiefs still held an 11-point lead.
While the Blues came back strongly at the death, the Chiefs managed to hold out for the win. The result marks their eighth consecutive win against the Blues, but what's more significant is that they have started their 2015 campaign with a victory away from home, as well as a convincing performance.
The Blues, on the other hand, will be under pressure to win against the Stormers and Cheetahs on their upcoming tour to South Africa.
Blues – Penalties: Ihaia West (6).
Chiefs – Tries: James Lowe, Bryce Heem. Conversions: Damian McKenzie (2). Penalties: McKenzie (3).
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Charles Piutau, 13 Hamish Northcot, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino (c), 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Luke Braid, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Ben Lam.
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Johan Bardoul, 5 Mike Fitzgerald, 4 Matt Symons (c), 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Ben Tameifuna, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Anton Leinart-Brown.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images