We're really happy with everyone
Reigning Super Rugby champions the Chiefs held off a second-half fightback to defeat the Highlanders 41-27 on Friday and launch their title defence with a convincing bonus-point win.
The Chiefs scored four tries to three, including a brace to Tim Nanai-Williams, who proved an able replacement for Sonny Bill Williams after being switched to the centres to cover for the departed Rugby League convert.
Both sides showed plenty of attacking verve in a match where the lead switched six times.
But the Chiefs staged a late surge to claim victory, despite missing a clutch of key players through injury.
Captain Craig Clarke said the Chiefs had plenty of room for improvement as they look to build on last year's maiden title for the North Island club.
"We were a bit disappointed in letting in a few tries but we've got a hell of an exciting team and managed to score a few points," he said.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said the side scrambled very well on defence and that reflected the hard work the team had done in pre-season.
''It was outstanding spirit from the guys and you could not fault the effort of the guys,'' Rennie said.
''To come down here and grab five points and deny the Highlanders any points at all is an outstanding effort.'
"We've got good depth, good spirit and we showed that the way we hung in there. The culture of the team stood out. The boys are very fit. To get five points and deny the Highlanders any down here is a real bonus."
Rennie revealed two-try scorer centre Tim Nanai-Williams had been a doubtful starter earlier in the day because of a stomach upset.
"He lasted 60 minutes and he was fantastic," Rennie said. "He's very quick and evasive and very good defensively."
Flank Sam Cane was another who had a "huge" game but Rennie said everyone had stood up.
"We're really happy with everyone. The bench contributed really strongly and made a real impact.
"The quality of our ball was good. We've set a benchmark now and we'll work hard against the Cheetahs in Hamilton next week. We were patient and we built the tries better than the Highlanders in the end."
Rennie praised the goal-kicking of Gareth Anscombe who kicked eight from nine to contribute 21 points.
"Gareth was great. We were rapt that he was up for grabs. He's a very smart footballer."