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Gatland a winner as Chiefs down Blues to open Super Rugby season

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Gatland a winner as Chiefs down Blues to open Super Rugby season

Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs during the round one Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Chiefs at Eden Park on January 31, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

But they didn’t have it all their way against a resurgent home team.

Former Wales coach Warren Gatland celebrated his Super Rugby debut with a telling victory on Friday as his Waikato Chiefs fought back with four second-half tries to beat the Auckland Blues 37-29.

Aaron Cruden, back in New Zealand after three years with Montpellier, 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.

Chiefs hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho, who scored their sole first-half try, bagged a second soon after the resumption and was followed over the line by Pita Sowakula as the visitors wiped out the deficit within 10 minutes of the break.

Rival props Karl Tu’inukuafe and Aidan Ross traded tries to keep the scores level at 26-26, before Cruden put Solomon Alaimalo over for the Chiefs’ fifth try and added a drop goal and penalty.

The Blues’ only response in the dying stages was a penalty by Harry Plummer.

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