If the Chiefs were ever apprehensive about their chances of defending the Super 15 title they won last year then last week's emphatic victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin has put that all to rest.
The 41-27 opening win was as entertaining as it was clear-cut, and will guarantee a near full-house at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton tomorrow night against the Cheetahs.
The South African team lost at home 29-22 to the Sharks in their first outing of the campaign. The Cheetahs have recalled halfback Sarel Pretorius into their starting team, reigniting a lethal halves partnership between the veteran and rising first five-eighth Johan Goosen from the 2011 season, when the Cheetahs finished a point behind the Crusaders as the best attacking team (435 points).
But for all their bravado and attacking intent, the Cheetahs will be unlikely to threaten tomorrow given their dislike for long-haul travel and the irresistible confidence of the Chiefs.
Head coach Dave Rennie has made four changes to his starting line up. Hooker Hika Elliot's calf injury has recovered to see him take the reins off young hooker Rhys Marshall, who moves to the bench. Lock Michael Fitzgerald, halfback Augustine Pulu and winger Lelia Masaga all start, with Craig Clarke, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Patrick Osborne moving into the reserves.
"Out of all the South African sides the Cheetahs probably play a style that is closest to ours. They are innovative and can score tries from anywhere around the park and like all South African sides they are big and physical," said Rennie.
"We had a really free-flowing match against them in Bloemfontein last year, and we are expecting them to play a style of game similar to us, which is a high-paced, ruck and run game."
Rennie was impressed with his young players on debut against the Highlanders last week, particularly hooker Marshall, who has yet to play an ITM Cup game. He put in a solid 70 minute performance covering for Elliot and injured Mo Schwalger.
Another debutant, Bundee Aki, was strong and showed in conjunction with Aaron Cruden that they were able to limit the space around the Highlanders' Ma'a Nonu. The final new cap, Patrick Osborne, scored a crucial try at a crucial stage in the match.
"Considering the amount of injuries we had, the whole team really stood up," said Rennie.
"It was a real lift in intensity from our pre-season campaign and to get five points down in Dunedin and deny the Highlanders any, was a great start."
The Chiefs Player of the Day was Tim Nanai-Williams, who was extremely ill on game day.
Chiefs coach Wayne Smith asked him to see if he could manage to play for 20 minutes, but the gusty stand-in centre managed 65 minutes before nearly fainting after his second try.
His superb break and step to fool All Blacks fullback Ben Smith for his first try will long live in the memory and is an early candidate for try of the season.
Chiefs v Cheetahs
Pauliasi Manu, Hika Elliot, Ben Afeaki, Michael Fitzgerald, Brodie Retallick, Liam Messam (c), Sam Cane, Fritz Lee, Augustine Pulu, Aaron Cruden, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Bundee Aki, Tim Nanai-Williams, Lelia Masaga, Gareth Anscombe. Reserves: Rhys Marshall, Ben Tameifuna, Craig Clarke, Tanerau Latimer, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Charlie Ngatai, Patrick Osborne
Hennie Daniller, Willie le Roux, Johann Sadie, Robert Ebersohn, Raymond Rhule, Johan Goosen, Sarel Pretorius , Philip van der Walt, Lappies Labuschagne, Frans Viljoen, Francois Uys, Lood de Jager, Lourens Adriaanse, Adriaan Strauss (c), Trevor Nyakane. Reserves: Ryno Barnes, Coenie Oosthuizen, Landman Ligtoring, Boom Prinsloo, Piet van Zyl, Riaan Smit, Ryno Benjamin.