The Chiefs have booked themselves a place in the Super 14 final for the first time after beating the Hurricanes 14-10 at Waikato Stadium.
The Chiefs have booked themselves a place in the Super 14 final for the first time after holding out the Hurricanes 14-10 at Waikato Stadium on Friday.
In another nail-biting New Zealand derby clash, the hosts outscored their visitors two tries to one but had to hang on for all their worth in the dying minutes of the match to seal the deal.
The Chiefs will have to wait 24 hours to find out who they will play next weekend and see if they will host the final in Hamilton. Should the Bulls beat the Crusaders, coach Ian Foster and his troops will travel to Pretoria.
As for the Hurricanes, they will have to wait another year for a shot at the elusive title after falling short once again in what is now their fifth semi-final heartbreak for the players, coaches and fans.
Just as the scoreline suggests, little separated the teams as far as territory, possession and errors were concerned. Although fly-half Stephen Donald had a shaky night with the boot – missing two penalties – he converted both of the Chiefs tries that ulitmately proved the difference in the end.
But the final margin is insignificant; four points is as good as 100.
The first semi-final of the weekend certainly lived up to it's billing. It was a match played at a fast and furious pace in a fierce and brutal contest, both teams uncompromising at the breakdown and relentless in the tackle.
In the end it was the Chiefs' superior and slightly more aggressive defence – plus some wonderful game-breaking from their backs – that won it.
You had to question the strategy of the Hurricanes. Why would a team possessing the most lethal attacking midfield in the competition opt to kick towards the most lethal attacking back three in the game?
Long-range kicks from Willie Ripia failed to undo a Chiefs side with the defensive speed and counter-attacking ability of Mils Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Lelia Masaga.
In fact, the telling blow came from such an incident following a hoist from the Hurricane's pivot that landed in the safe hands of Muliaina. The Chiefs' skipper handed Sivivatu the ball and the All Blacks flyer responded with a 60m burst that – after some crisp passing between himself and Toby Morland – ended with Muliaina under the posts.
The converted try put the Chiefs in front for the first time in the match and with just under half an hour remaining, a penalty by Piri Weepu was not enough to rain on the home side's parade.
The Hurricanes started well enough though and they looked to be confirming their pre-match status as favourites when Ma'a Nonu, a six-time semi-finalist for the men in yellow, was sent in from a close range attack in the 20th minute.
Flanker Victor Vito broke the defence, running off a short pass from Ripia and handed the ball near the try-line to the unmarked Nonu to cross over for his ninth try of the season – the highest in the competition.
Weepu, who took over the goal-kicking duties from Ripia for this match, slotted an angled conversion to give his team a 7-0 lead. However, the Hurricanes were reduced to fourteen men in the 26th minute when prop John Schwalger was sin-binned for a professional foul near a ruck five metres out from his try-line.
Donald missed the resulting penalty, but the Chiefs finally made their numerical advantage count when Sione Lauaki was found in space out wide.
The burly number eight thundered down the touchline, handing off both Cory Jane and Rodney So'oialo with ease, before finishing in the corner. Donald's conversion was good and the scores were level until the break.
Donald implemented the Chiefs kicking game with skill and accuracy while Ripia had a poor game for the Hurricanes and was replaced early in the second half following his final kick of the match that ended in Muliaina's brilliant touchdown.
Weepu missed a penalty attempt from halfway after that before landing an angled one from near the touchline in the 65th minute to cut the deficit to four points and set up an agonising final quarter.
Fog rolled over the ground in the last five minutes of the match, sparking memories of 2006 when fog marred the final between the Crusaders and the Hurricanes.
With time running out, the Hurricanes threw everything at the Chiefs and managed to set up a line-out ten metres out from the host's line as the Hamilton crowd held its collective breath.
They rumbled forward, but with the Chiefs embroiled in solid defence, the lines held and a hard-faught win was achieved after a Hurricanes' player – the fog protected his identity – knocked on inches from the line.
Jubilation for the Chiefs and heartbreak for the Hurricanes, this was Super 14 rugby at it's very best.
Man of the match: The Chiefs played the smarter rugby helped by some brilliant composure and skill by skipper Mils Muliaina who is without a doubt the most influential full-back in the game at present. Started and ended the decisive try that took his team into their first ever Super Rugby final.
Tries: Lauaki, Muliaina
Yellow card: Schwalger.(Hurricanes, 25min)
Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Dwayne Sweeney, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Toby Morland, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Kevin O'Neill, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 James McGougan, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Joe Savage, 18 Toby Lynn, 19 Serge Lilo, 20 Brett Goodin, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Sosene Anesi.
Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Tamati Ellison, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 David Smith, 10 Willie Ripia, 9 Piri Weepu; 8 Rodney So'oialo (c), 7 Scott Waldrom, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 Karl Lowe, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Jason Kawau, 22 Zac Guilford.
Referee: Stu Dickinson (Australia)
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)