Warren Gatland is returning to his New Zealand roots after signing a four-year Super Rugby head coach deal with the Chiefs that allows him to fulfil his British and Irish Lions duties.
The Lions travelled to Hamilton coming off a loss to the Brumbies and were facing a Chiefs side that had won their last three games.
Springboks fly-half Elton Jantjies was shifted to inside centre as youngster Gianni Lombard assumed the No.10 duties for the visitors.
Jack Debreczeni came in to replace the injured Damian McKenzie at fullback for the Chiefs in cool conditions at Waikato Stadium.
Both sides traded punches early in the encounter before newly positioned loose-head prop Angus Ta’avao collapsed a Lions scrum to hand Jantjies the chance to open the scoring for the Lions in the form of a penalty kick.
The Chiefs then pressed into the Lions’ half for ten minutes, and despite forcing the South Africans to concede three penalties, couldn’t capitalise on field position.
The Lions saw Ta’avao as a weakness at scrum time and targeted that facet of the game.
Another penalty for collapsing the scrum by the Chiefs’ loose-head allowed the Lions to double their score off the boot of Jantjies.
The away side then forced another scrum penalty four minutes later to place them within striking distance of the try line.
Despite a TMO review for knock-on, Carlu Sadie managed to force the ball down on the chalk to push his side out to a 13-point after Jantjies’ conversion.
In the last play before half-time, Warren Whiteley placed a grubber down the left-hand touchline and when Sean Wainui stumbled in pursuit, electric winger Aphiwe Dyantyi cantered in to put the Lions 20 points up heading into the break.
The second half saw both sides struggle for rhythm as referee Brendon Pickerill had trouble managing the scrappy scrums.
But the Chiefs then did what the Chiefs do best and had the Lions on the ropes heading into the final 15 minutes.
Wainui slid in on the right-hand touchline for the home side before a stunning counter-attack sparked by a Wainui line break had replacement hooker Nepo Laulala in again for the hosts.
Despite Marty McKenzie missing both conversions, the partisan Hamilton crowd was in full voice as the Chiefs looked to be mounting a comeback.
The Lions appeared to have seen off the Chiefs’ rally before a McKenzie kick set up the chance to put Tumua Manu over the line and set up a grandstand finish.
With the score at 20-17 in favour of the Lions, the visitors looked to wind down the clock before a penalty advantage saw Jantjies roll the dice and attempt a drop goal.
He successfully knocked over the three points leaving the Lions less than a minute to survive to pull off an important away win.
The Chiefs provided a scare when they nearly launched a successful counter-ruck but Andries Coetzee punted the ball into touch to hand the Lions their second consecutive win against the Chiefs in New Zealand, the previous in 2016.
This was a confidence-building win for the Lions, who will try and take this momentum into their next encounter against the defending champions the Crusaders.
The Chiefs’ three-game winning streak has been broken and their dismal first half performance was to blame.
The job doesn’t get any easier for the Hamilton side as they travel to Wellington to take on the Hurricanes.