The Chiefs Manawa will take top billing into next weekend’s Super Rugby Aupiki semifinals after taking a 46-38 home victory over a determined Matatū in Hamilton.
The Manawa did not have it all their own way, not taking the lead until the 31-minute mark as they struggled with the wind and perhaps the heat and then withstanding a late flourish by Matatū, which reduced the final margin from 27 to just eight.
In the final analysis, the Chiefs pack, and the front row, in particular, was the difference, along with some impact off the bench, notably from halfback Violet Hapi-Wise and hooker Grace Houpapa-Barrett, plus the spark of unheralded left-wing Georgia Daals, who scored a brace of tries.
Lock Chelsea Bremner, who was strong aerially and in the tight, got the better of her sister, Matatū captain Alana Bremner.
Yet it was Matatū that started in stronger fashion, roaring to a 19-8 lead off three tries despite incurring several penalties and having to soak up a lot of defensive pressure.
Wing Cheyelle Robins-Reti opened the account after just two minutes, set up by a sweet Amy du Plessis offload. First-five Rosie Kelly, who ran well, showed good pace for the second try, and when Grace Steinmetz bolted 40m for her try after dropping the ball behind her off a scrum, one might have thought there were alarm bells ringing in the Manawa camp.
The home side was not clinical, but sooner or later, the scrum pressure would tell. So it proved when they reeled off four unanswered tries for a 26-point swing going into halftime.
Daals’ first try came from a brilliant offload by Hazel Tubic after a long charge by lock Kelsie Thwaites.
That was matched by Carla Hohepa’s offload for Daals’ second try just three minutes into the second stanza. A cricket score loomed when Houpapa-Barrett crossed to make it 46-19 with 14 still to play.
But a resolute Matatū, which had made around four times as many tackles as Manawa, steeled themselves and had the final say, even if the final margin was slightly flattering to them.
Second five, Grace Brooker was especially prominent in the closing stages, giving Lucy Jenkins the last pass and scoring a long-range opportunist try.
The Manawa have now won seven straight official games and were not far off registering 50 points for the third time this season.
They look primed for next Sunday’s semifinals at North Harbour Stadium.
Chiefs Manawa 46 (Georgia Daals 2, Mererangi Paul, Luka Connor, Kennedy Simon, Tynealle Fitzgerald, Grace Houpapa-Barrett tries; Hazel Tubic 3 con, pen, Tenika Willison con) Matatū 38 (Cheyelle Robins-Reti, Rosie Kelly, Grace Steinmetz, Natalie Delamere, Lucy Jenkins, Grace Brooker tries; Renée Holmes 4 con) HT: 34-19 Manawa