Chiefs battle past 'Canes to book final berth
May 22, 2009
The Chiefs' Stephen Donald celebrates his side's historic victory over the Hurricanes at Waikato Stadium
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The Chiefs booked a place in their first-ever Super 14 final with a 14-10 victory over the Hurricanes in their clash at the Waikato Stadium in Hamilton.
In scenes reminiscent of the 2006 final in Christchurch, fog descended on the field late in the match as the Hurricanes desperately tried to overcome a four-point deficit but they were unable to overhaul their rivals whose reward is a home final against the Crusaders next Saturday - or a daunting journey to Pretoria if the Bulls win the second semi-final at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
While the Chiefs celebrated, the Hurricanes were left to contemplate a fifth loss at the semi-final stage. Although the Chiefs muscled up to repel wave after wave of attack at the death, Mils Muliaina's 54th minute try proved the difference - and encapsulated the Hurricanes' flawed approach as they failed to atone for an 8-16 loss in the regular season here on May 9.
A wayward Willie Ripia clearance gave the All Blacks fullback scope to launch a decisive counter attack in concert with the elusive Sitiveni Sivivatu to give the Chiefs valuable breathing space. Muliaina inevitably found Sivivatu looming in support and once the wing eluded Piri Weepu and Tamati Ellison, the Hurricanes were stretched down the middle of the park.
Sivivatu fed Toby Morland as the cover defence closed and the halfback selflessly gave Muliaina a clear passage under the posts. Ripia was hauled off soon after but the Hurricanes' determination to kick possession away had already caused irreparable damage.
The All Blacks midfield of Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith were rarely offered any leeway to attack an area of perceived Chiefs weakness - although Nonu opened the scoring. The Chiefs made the more threatening start but staunch defence and some imprecise kicking options enabled the Hurricanes to we ather the early storm.
Nonu was responsible for thwarting the Chiefs in the seventh minute when he tracked back to defuse the danger after Morland intercepted a no-look pass from Ellison before haring down the touch line. Morland fed Stephen Donald in support but Nonu scrambled to lower the Chiefs playmaker 10-metres from the line .
Nonu opened the scoring in the 20th minute, though his role was only peripheral when the Hurricanes launched their first genuine attack. The midfielder dotted down untouched after roaming blindside flanker Victor Vito collected a short pass from Ripia before surging past Sione Lauaki.
Vito appeared to hold possession a touch long but freed the arms to feed the unmarked second five-eighth as he was tackled by Muliaina. Weepu inherited the kicking tee from the erratic Ripia and goaled the angled conversion.
Stung by conceding against the run of play, the Chiefs regrouped though their task was made eased by the Hurricanes losing industrious open side flanker Scott Waldrom to injury and prop John Schwalger to the sin bin. Schwalger was carded by Australian referee Stuart Dickinson for a ruck infringement in the 27th minute as the Chiefs burrowed towards the line.
Donald's penalty attempt cannoned of an upright enabling the Hurricanes to clear but the Chiefs hammered away to finally take advantage six minutes into Schwalger's suspension when Lauaki profited from some slick handling by Donald and Sivivatu.
Mobile lock Craig Clarke set Lauaki free down the touchline and the occasional All Black made light of a lack of space by batting away Cory Jane's attempted tackle before leaving Rodney So'oialo in his wake. Donald added the extras from wide out to bring up 600 points in Super rugby.
He was unable to break the deadlock with a 43rd minute attempt after Ellison committed a ruck infringement but had a far easier task after Muliaina finished celebrating what was the game-breaking try.
The Hurricanes had to be content with a Weepu penalty to narrow the gap to four points but the Chiefs refused to buckle despite losing the damaging Lauaki to a head knock with 26 minutes remaining.
Muliaina praised his side for refusing to buckle under pressure. "I'm absolutely proud of my boys -- the heart and dedication in the last 10-15 minutes that went into defence, you can't train stuff like that. We knew we had to try and slow their game down and it was a great effort from the forwards," he added.
So'oialo congratulated the Chiefs for the way they played tonight. " I thought we did really well but a couple of things let us down. We gave away a bit too many penalties and missed a few tackles. I'm proud of the boys for they way they played tonight and all year. They never really gave it up and took it to the Chiefs tonight."
Chiefs: Mils Muliaina (capt); Lelia Masaga, Dwayne Sweeney, Callum Bruce, Sitiveni Sivivatu; Stephen Donald, Toby Morland; Sione Lauaki, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Kevin O'Neill, Craig Clarke, James McGougan, Aled de Malmanche, Sona Taumalolo
Replacements: Hika Elliot, Joe Savage, Toby Lynn, Serge Lilo, David Bason, Mike Delany, Sosene Anesi
Hurricanes: Cory Jane; Tamati Ellison, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, David Smith; Willie Ripia, Piri Weepu; Rodney So'oialo (capt), Scott Waldrom, Victor Vito, Jason Eaton, Jeremy Thrush, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore, John Schwalger
Replacements: Ged Robinson, Jacob Ellison, Bryn Evans, Karl Lowe, Alby Mathewson, Jason Kawau, Zac Guildford