Chiefs edge Fijian Drua 34-35 in a pulsating Super Rugby Pacific contest at Churchill Park, Lautoka.
The Chiefs overcame a spirited Fijian Drua to book a home Super Rugby quarter-final after an enthralling clash at a sold-out Churchill Park.
Trailing 35-13 in the 70th-minute, Mick Byrne’s men put on the afterburners, and almost stole a famous victory as their more illustrious opponents wilted in the tropical island heat.
The phenomenal Fijian Drua scored three converted tries in nine minutes to almost upset the fancied Chiefs in a wild finish to a memorable clash in Fiji.
The islanders, however, left it too late as the Kiwis clung to a nervy win.
The Chiefs have made the playoffs every year since 2011 and survived a potential banana skin to keep that run going. But only just.
The one-point win cements the third spot on the Super Rugby Pacific table as well as a home playoff in Hamilton.
The Chiefs and Fijian Drua share nine tries in an epic Super rugby encounter in front of 11, 000 cacophonous fans in Fiji
Emoni Narawa and Apisalome Vota both bagged braces for their respective teams.
The star of the show, however, was once again Vinaya Habosi. The 22-year-old had another magnificent match.
Although he did not score, the winger caused all manner of havoc culminating in one of the tries of the 2022 season.
The young playmaker is a superstar in the making, and one of the standout players of the tournament.
Ravouvou notched his second double of the season after claiming two scores in his side’s win over Moana Pasifika.
Angus Ta’avao and Bryn Gatland also scored for the Chiefs to go with a second-half penalty try for the men from the Waikato.
Gatland landed four conversions to go with his try and one assist for a match-haul of 13 points.
Kalaveti Ravouvou and Timoci Sauvoli, scoring his maiden Super Rugby try, also dotted down for the Pacific islanders.
Teti Tela converted all four tries and knocked over two penalties for 14 points at first receiver.
The Chiefs begin well as they coast to a deserved halftime lead, but a thrilling Drua fight back almost upsets the Kiwis
Ta’avao and Gatland both dotted down to give the Hamilton men a 14-0 lead after 21 minutes.
A fortunate bounce of the ball saw Vota pull a try back for the hosts before Narawa’s late strike re-opened the visitor’s two-score advantage as the teams went into the sheds.
Two penalties saw Fijian Drua cut the deficit to eight soon after halftime. The Chiefs capitalised on an unforced error to make it 28-13 after 53 minutes when Narawa struck again.
A 66th-minute penalty try all but killed the game as the visitors went 35-13 ahead, but the hosts had other ideas.
Ravouvou, Vota, and Sauvoli all crossed at the death to send the stadium into wild delirium.
Unfortunately, time ran out for the ‘Flying Fijians’, who could not add to their two wins in their maiden Super Rugby season.
Clayton McMillan – and his relieved charges – will breathe a sigh of relief as they go into the playoffs albeit with an unconvincing victory.
The Chiefs dominated the first half, scoring three converted tries to one, to lead 21-7 at the break
Both teams struggled with the humid conditions at a packed Churchill Park.
The visitors opened the scoring in the 14th-minute after a 12-phase attack ended without error.
Ta’avao took Gatland’s flat pass on the angle and barged over Kitione Taliga and through Frank Lomani before reaching out to score his 10th Super Rugby try.
Ta’avoa went close again but got stopped short of the line as the New Zealanders began to increase the tempo.
The Fijians began to leak penalties as the Kiwis increased the pressure. A series of penalties saw Brad Weber opt for an attacking scrum which ended in seven points.
Weber broke blinde from the set-piece and played Quinn Tupaea, on the run. Tupaea went close but was stopped short from the first phase attack.
The quickly recycled ball went to Gatland. The flyhalf flew over untouched for his second score of the season. Gatland converted both scores
McMillan’s side had enjoyed most of the possession (75%) and territory (65%). Moreover, some poor handling, due to the slippery conditions, kept the score at 14-0.
A rare foray into the Chiefs’ 22 saw the Fijians get on the board after some good fortune.
Zuriel Togiatama could not find his jumpers as the Drua turned over possession inside the Chiefs’ 22. The tourists kicked away the ball to allow the home team to counter-attack.
Fijian Drua is the third-best in Super Rugby at scoring from counter-attacks, and they made the Kiwis pay from the midfield attack.
Ilaisa Droasese charged into the 22. His offload was accidentally kicked back towards the Chiefs’ try line by Brodie Retallick.
Apisalome Vota chased the rolling ball before picking up to score. Tela added the extras as the home supporters’ volume increased.
But the visitors struck on the stroke of halftime. Weber went to the blindside again off the back of the scrum to set up Narawa.
The winger, born in Fiji, cut inside Habosi and beat Ravouvou to the corner flag to silence the home supporters.
Gatland’s conversion gave the visitors another two-goal lead.
The Fijian Drua mounted a sensational fight back but the clock ran out of time as the leggy Chiefs clung to a fortunate victory
Byrne’s men outscored the opposition 27-14 in the second stanza, scoring three magic tries, but it was not enough.
The Fijians scored three times at the death and almost salvage one of the most stunning comebacks in Super Rugby history.
Tela landed two third-quarter penalties to make it 13-21 after 51 minutes. But hosts would rue not going for more because the Chiefs scored straight after Tela’s second penalty.
A mix-up between Habosi and Vota from the restart cost the Drua a try.
Tupaea stole the ball after Habosi knocked it back to Vota. The ball bounced in no man’s land and Tupaea pounced.
Tupaea gathered the loose ball before offloading to the supporting Narawa for his brace.
Jonah Lowe thought he had scored in the corner, but Onisi Ratave’s last-ditch tackle put Lowe’s foot on the chalk.
A frenetic finale catapults this classic clash into the history vaults
A bulldozing scrum led to a penalty try for the Chiefs, which effectively ended the game. There was, however, time for some thrilling rugby from the Fijians.
Ravouvou finished off a sensational counter-attack after Habosi broke from the Drua try line.
Habosi beat five defenders as he charged to the halfway line. Before he got tackled, the winger offloaded to the supporting Ravouvou, who slipped two tackles to run away under the posts.
Vota crashed over minutes later to spark delirium in the stands.
Tela converted to make it 35-27 with four minutes remaining, but the clock was not on Drua’s side.
There was, however, time for a thrilling finish when Sauvoli scored under the posts with less than a minute to play. The prop’s first SR try to set up a frenetic final few moments.
Tela’s drop-kick conversion made it a one-point game with seconds remaining, but a last-ditch attack from deep ended with the ball going into touch.
Make no mistake, despite losing, the Fijians won the popular vote.
Final Score: Drua 34 (7) Chiefs 35 (21)
Tries – Vota (2), Ravouvou, Sauvoli
Pen – Tela (2)
Con – Tela (4)
Tries – Ta’avao, Gatland, Narawa (2), Penalty try
Con – Gatland (4)
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Ref 1: Angus Mabey
Assistant Ref 2: Dan Waenga
TMO: Glenn Newman
Drua: 15 Kitione Taliga, 14 Ilaisa Droasese, 13 Apisalome Vota, 12 Kalaveti Ravouvou, 11 Vinaya Habosi, 10 Teti Tela, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Nemani Nagusa (captain), 7 Rusiate Nasove, 6 Joseva Tamani, 5 Viliame Rarasea, 4 Isoa Nasilasila, 3 Kaliopasi Uluilakepa, 2 Zuriel Togiatama, 1 Haereiti Hetet.
Replacements: 16 Tevita Ikanivere, 17 Timoci Sauvoli, 18 Manasa Saulo, 19 Chris Minimbi, 20 Mesulame Dolokoto, 21 Peni Matawalu, 22 Caleb Muntz, 23 Onisi Ratave.
Chiefs: 15 Kaleb Trask, 14 Emoni Narawa, 13 Rameka Poihipi, 12 Quinn Tupaea, 11 Alex Nankivell, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Brad Weber (captain), 9 Brad Weber (captain), 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Luke Jacobson, 6 Samipeni Finau, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross.
Replacements: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Naitoa Ah Khoi, 20 Kaylum Boshier, 21 Cortez Ratima, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Jonah Lowe.