New Chiefs' coach Warren Gatland has hailed the influence of his team's bench as they inspired a come-from-behind win 37-29 win over the Blues in the Super Rugby season opener in Auckland.
The Chiefs were in all sorts of trouble as they trailed the Blues 19-5 at halftime thanks to two tries from All Blacks winger Reiko Ioane.
However, the Chiefs stormed back in the second half thanks to the introduction of All Blacks midfielder Anton Liernert-Brown and two-time Super Rugby champion Aaron Cruden.
Former All Blacks first-five Cruden, who was playing his first match in New Zealand since 2017, was especially instrumental, kicking three conversions, a penalty and a drop goal in the win.
"We were looking to bring Aaron on a bit later," admitted Gatland.
"But we wanted to get those two guys [Cruden and Lienert-Brown] on and we felt that was important, in terms of that experience and I thought our bench was great.
"I was pleased with a lot of people in the squad, we got much better and more accurate.
"The scoreboard in the second half probably reflected that."
Even Blues coach Leon MacDonaldn had to applaud Cruden's impact off the bench.
"I thought they played particularly well," he said. "The impact off the bench was great.
"Cruden in particular I thought was outstanding and you could see the old wise head take control."
While the bench played a massive role in the win, Gatland admits he did have some stern words to share during the half-time break.
"We shot ourselves in the foot with mistakes and turnovers, and the Blues were pretty good," Gatland added.
"So it was about being accurate, reduce the number of turnovers, to be decisive, to run hard and keep the pill, because we were going one phase, two phases and then turning it over.
"When we got back into the game, it was probably the mental battle that we were trying to say, let's be vocal, let's be accurate and not afraid to play a bit of territory and try to squeeze the Blues.
"We did that and we were able to get a few turnovers or they tried to run the ball back, put themselves under pressure and we capitalised on that."
While Gatland was relieved to win the match, he understands there is plenty to improve on with a challenging fortnight ahead.
Next week, they host the Crusaders, the three-time defending Super Rugby champions, before a trip to Japan to face the Sunwolves.
"We've got a huge game next week against the Crusaders and to get a win tonight and then go home, I think we'll get better.
"I felt we were a bit undone, because we had the one warmup game against the Blues and then an internal hit out, so we're kind of a bit fresh at the moment in terms of not having a lot of rugby.
"So we'll be a lot better from tonight. The first three games of this competition are pretty important to us, so if we can get a big next week against the Crusaders.
"Then we're off to Tokyo for the Sunwolves. So it's really important that the performance can improve, but the result was pretty paramount."
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