Despite wearing the mantle of champions, the injury-hit Chiefs started as slight underdogs against the Otago Highlanders on Friday but emerged as confident and emphatic 41-27 winners.
The Southern Kings had staked out the ground of tournament underdogs before going on to win their debut match 22-10 over Australia’s Western Force on their home ground in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
In a round of gripping derby matches, the Queensland Reds beat interstate rivals the New South Wales Waratahs 25-17 while South Africa’s Bulls beat the Stormers by the same scoreline.
The Auckland Blues, who finished 12th last year in their worst-ever Super Rugby season, also made a winning start under the coaching knights appointed to lead their recovery, Sir John Kirwan and Sir Graham Henry.
The Blues rallied from 20-16 down midway through the second half to beat the favoured Wellington Hurricanes 34-20.
Last season’s beaten finalists the Sharks beat the Cheetahs 29-22 in another intense South African derby while the ACT Brumbies beat the Melbourne Rebels 30-13 to stay unbeaten in the Australian conference. The Chiefs’ win over the formidable Highlanders provided one of the highlights of the round, which saw New Zealand and SA teams in action for the first time.
Teenage winger Sergeal Petersen scored two tries while flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis booted four penalties as the Kings defied all expectations to make a winning debut in Port Elizabeth. For a week, at least, the win sent the Kings to the top of the South African conference in which even they expect to finish last.
Captain Luke Watson, who injured his throat during the match, said the patchwork side will be underdogs for the entire season.
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