The unbeaten Chiefs Manawa will be solid favourites heading into Saturday’s Super Rugby Aupiki final after a powerful forwards effort laid the platform for their 43-21 victory over the Hurricanes Poua in the second semifinal at North Harbour Stadium.
Another typically dominant Manawa set-piece paved the way for the six tries to three-win. It looked comfortable in the final analysis, but the Manawa, who have won eight straight official matches, had to withstand a fierce Poua challenge in the collisions and a backline marshalled by the mercurial No 10 Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali.
It was an entertaining, if not always fluent, encounter.
Veteran Chiefs centre Carla Hohepa opened the scoring after three minutes as the Manawa sought to bring their offloading game to the contest. Hohepa shrugged off some weak defence.
The Poua hit back through hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate, who drove over from close range after a lineout. Her teammate, lock Joanah Ngan-Woo, pestered the Manawa in the lineout, and there were misfires and crooked throws from both teams in that area.
Manawa fullback Tenika Willison, who had a big day out with two tries amongst her 20 points, crossed out wide after another scrum shunt and swift hands by Hohepa and Hazel Tubic. The Manawa often just walked their powerful scrum up the field, Tanya Kalounivale again prominent.
When Manawa hooker Luka Connor crossed off a lineout maul for her sixth try of the season, it was 21-7 after just a quarter, and the signs were ominous for the Poua. But they hung tough, competing hard for the ball, tackling gamely and cooking up some slick backline moves. Subritzky-Nafatali tried hard to ignite her outsides, using a variety of attacking kicks. Still, not enough ball in space found its way to Ayesha Leti-I’iga, who was operating at centre and was mainly forced into doing a lot of tackling.
Yet, it was Subritzky-Nafatali whose flat ball on the blindside found No 8 Kaipo Olsen-Baker for a score right on the halftime break.
Manawa No 8 and skipper Kennedy Simon scored off a pushover scrum, but Subritzky-Nafatali then created a try for flanker Layla Sae on the left edge with a pinpoint crosskick. At 28-21 Manawa, it was still game on.
But any hope of an upset was snuffed out with two late tries to Willison and right-wing Mererangi Paul, helped by a yellow card on Ngan-Woo for collapsing a maul.
To the fore in the Manawa pack were Simon, Kalounivale, blindside flanker Charmaine Smith, who was into everything, and Connor.
The Manawa will face Matatū, who narrowly edged the Blues 26-23 in the first semifinal, in the competition decider in Hamilton.
Third place playoff
Blues v Hurricanes Poua: Saturday 25 March, 11.35am, FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
Chiefs Manawa v Matatū: Saturday 25 March, 2.05pm, FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton
Watch live on Sky Sport NZ and get your tickets HERE.