(Reuters) - Waikato Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan believes his side have shown they can compete with the best teams in Super Rugby Aotearoa after getting a monkey off their back by snapping an 11-match losing streak.
The Chiefs, inspired by Damian McKenzie, staged a brilliant comeback to beat thelast year before heading back to Europe on a pre-agreed sabbatical to prepare for his second stint as British and Irish Lions coach.
"Yeah, probably more relief than anything," McMillan said of ending the equal longest losing streak for a New Zealand Super Rugby team.
"It didn't look pretty for a while there but I'm pretty proud of the fellas for gutsing it out and showcasing what they can actually do when we get a bit of front foot ball," he told Fairfax media.
McMillan had particular praise for fleet-footed fullback McKenzie, who moved into playmaker role in the second half and was pivotal in the fight back from a 26-7 halftime deficit.
"He’s just a quality player," McMillan added. "From the outside looking in, you know he’s always been a quality player for the Chiefs and the All Blacks, but it’s taken me to go into the environment to see how electric he is at training.
"He's a dynamo and can create a lot out of nothing."
Next up for the Chiefs is a match against the Auckland Blues, who are unbeaten this season heading into th Wellington Hurricanes 35-29 in the New Zealand capital on Saturday to give McMillan his first win after taking over from Warren Gatland for the season.
Gatland oversaw a winless inaugural season in the domestic competition eir clash with the Canterbury Crusaders later on Sunday.
"They're a quality side but we've got the monkey off our back. We’ve shown we can stress the best teams if we are consistent and accurate for longer," McMillan said.
"We get to play at home and we'll be dangerous. We've got to get our preparation right, recover well, celebrate well, and just keep building the belief in the boys."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by Daniel Wallis)