MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The Waikato Chiefs fended off a brave challenge from the Queensland Reds to reach the semi-finals of Super Rugby Pacific with a bruising 29-20 win in Hamilton on Saturday.
A late try to Pita Gus Sowakula and the unerring boot of Damien McKenzie proved the difference for the Chiefs in a frenetic atmosphere at Waikato Stadium.
McKenzie slotted five penalties and two conversions in a flawless night off the tee, nudging the Chiefs in front in the last 10 minutes after the Reds threatened to pull off a massive upset through a brace of tries to winger Suliasi Vunivalu.
“We were made to work extremely hard,” said Chiefs captain Sam Cane.
“We came up against a really tough Reds side. To be fair, that’s what we expected.
“It was an arm-wrestle, we had to grind it out.”
Out of contract, Brad Thorn confirmed he had overseen his last match in charge as Reds coach after six years at Queensland.
“It’s time for a break,” said the dual code international.
The Chiefs’ hulking, bearded number eight Sowakula sealed the win with a try in the 75th minute as he plucked the ball out of a ruck and planted it next to the left post.
The Chiefs had only one other try-scorer, with livewire winger Emoni Narawa crossing at the left corner seconds after the half-time siren to put the hosts 16-10 up at the break.
The only team to beat the Chiefs in the regular season, the Reds held them in check for much of the night with well-organised defence and tactical kicking.
Vunivalu put his hand up for Wallabies selection with a terrific individual match, scoring the opening try in the ninth minute and grabbing his second on the hour-mark with a pick-and-go on the try-line.
McKenzie booted the Chiefs in front with three early penalties but Reds number eight Harry Wilson snatched the lead back with a try in the 35th minute.
Indiscipline and inaccuracy would ultimately cost the Reds dearly, with Tom Lynagh missing three shots off the tee in the first half to leave seven points begging.
Reds captain Tate McDermott fumed about some of the referee’s decisions but it was raw power from the Chiefs’ hulking forwards in the final minutes that overwhelmed the visitors.
No Australian team has ever won a Super Rugby playoff in New Zealand, and that streak will stretch into another year.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
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Source: The Print