Sportal.co.nz 23.Feb.2013Getty Images
Not only did they go pointless in their first home game but they lost No 8 Nasi Manu to a severe ankle injury.
"It looks like he has a broken foot or ankle which is a major blow to him and the team," head coach Jamie Joseph said. "He was in great shape and had been training very well."
But it was all smiles down the corridor where the defending champions were celebrating a bonus point win after scoring four tries to three.
"It was an outstanding effort," said Rennie. "I'm rapt. The boys stood up big-time.
"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."
Flanker 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."
Joseph lamented Nanai-Williams' second try when the Chiefs were clinging to a tenuous 28-24 lead 15 minutes from the end. The Chiefs scored 13 points to three in the final quarter.
"It was a bit of a back-breaker for us. We looked as if we could have scored but we dropped the ball and ended up under our own posts.
"Our discipline wasn't good enough and neither was our defence from broken play. We gave 50-50 ball away in the last quarter and you can't do that against a very good side.
"It was a hectic game and bothy teams were gasping for air. We showed the ability to score some good tries and that was one positive to come out of the game."
Joseph had said earlier he had been frustrated by the Highlanders having the bye so early but, with their injury situation, he now thinks it might be beneficial not to have to play next week.
Captain Andrew Hore and lock Brad Thorn should both be back for the March 9 game against the Cheetahs in Invercargill.
"We need to sort our lineout out," Joseph said. "You can't play a champion team and lose most of your lineout ball and expect to win."
Joseph said the passion and endeavour of the less experienced players could not be faulted but that the Highlanders as a squad had been given a lesson in composure.