The Chiefs beat the Western Force 19-20 in an error-strewn Super Rugby Trans-Tasman game at HBF Park, Perth.
Domingo Miotti scored a try after the hooter to make it a one-point game with the wide conversion to come, but the 24-year-old Argentina flyhalf pushed his attempted winner just past the post.
It capped a dramatic end to a thrilling finale as the Western Force almost pulled off a massive upset over the vaunted Super Rugby Aotearoa losing finalists. But it was not to be.
The Waikato men were not at their best but got the job done, winning an ugly Super Rugby game in Western Australia to get the new tournament off to a winning start.
The Chiefs took a slender three-point lead into the change rooms after a scrappy first half that saw both teams struggle to hold onto the ball.
Alex Nankivell opened the scoring in the sixth minute, Damian McKenzie converted.
The Western Force fought back to level when they were awarded a 36th-minute penalty try after several infringements saw two Chiefs players yellow carded.
Anton Lienert-Brown and Luke Jacobson both went to the sin-bin within a minute of each other, and either side of the penalty try for cynical play on their goal line.
Despite their numerical advantage, the Force could not put points on the board. McKenzie kicked a penalty before halftime to re-establish his side’s lead.
McKenzie missed a penalty, but a yellow card for Jordan Olowofela saw the Chiefs strike twice in three minutes to open up a 20-7 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Jacobson received a second yellow for cynical offsides when the home team was laying siege to the visitor’s line.
Tim Sampson’s men took advantage, this time, scoring from the next series.
Richard Kahui dotted down with less than 11 minutes remaining, and Miotti added the extras as the Force took control with their extra man.
The Force kept coming, the Chiefs fell apart. Wave after wave of attacks was repelled, but Miotti’s last-gasp try sent the stands into pandemonium.
After the celebrations, the flyhalf took his time to gather his thoughts, but it was not to be.
Chiefs start fast, but are profligate, wasting multiple chances with poor handling
It was the visitors who started the game strong when they thought they had opened the scoring in the fifth minute.
McKenzie’s offload put Lienert-Brown away for the score, but a knock-on at the breakdown by Brad Weber ruled out the try following a TMO review.
It did not matter, however, because the Chiefs managed to get their try a minute later.
The Waikato pack pushed the Western Force’s scrum off their ball, then shifted quickly to McKenzie on the right.
The 26-year-old playmaker carried the ball flat to the line and put Nankivell away. McKenzie converted.
The Chiefs continued to dominate most of the territory and possession, but uncharacteristic handling errors kept killing any momentum.
Nearly the entire backline made a mistake: Weber, McKenzie, Nankivell, Lienert-Brown, and Chase Tiatia all dropped the ball in good attacking positions.
The Kiwis could be forgiven for all their mistakes, especially after playing out a bruising Super Rugby Aotearoa final against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
The travel from Christchurch to Hamilton then Perth via other destinations is also draining on a tired mind and body.
The hosts eventually managed to get some points when they were awarded a free seven points for multiple cynical infringements by the Chiefs on their try line.
Lienert-Brown before the penalty try, then Jacobson joined him on the naughty step. The Force could not score. McKenzie added three more before halftime.
The first five missed an early penalty after the interval. He was not having a good day with the boot, missing a conversion after Harris’ 54th-minute score.
Sampson’s side started to take over at scrum time, rinsing the tired Chiefs, who began to fall apart in the set-pieces.
Olowofela went to the bin for a deliberate knock-down on his line, and unlike the home team, the visitors put points on the board immediately.
They went to their driving maul and bulldozed their way over. Harris got up with the ball for the score to open up a two-score lead.
The lead was soon 13 points when Lowe capped off a wonderful attack down the lefthand touchline. McKenzie missed both conversions.
The missed kicks meant the Force was still in the game if they score. Score they did when Jocabson saw red. Kahui scored soon after to make it a six-point game after the conversion.
The Perth side kept coming at the Hamilton men, their scrum continued to win penalties; the Chiefs were reeling as the clock ticked down.
Miotti crashed over in added time, the crowd went wild, but he could nail the conversion.
Final Score: Western Force 19 (7) Chiefs 20 (10)
Tries – Penalty try, Kahui, Miotti
Con – Miotti
Cards – Olowofela (Yellow, 53′)
Tries – Nankivell, Harris, Lowe
Pen – McKenzie
Con – McKenzie
Cards – Lienert-Brown (Yellow, 35′), Jacobson (Yellow, 36′; 2nd Yellow, 66′: Red)
Referee: Damon Murphy
Assistant Ref 1: Graham Cooper
Assistant Ref 2: Jordan Way
TMO: Brett Cronan
15 Rob Kearney, 14 Richard Kahui, 13 Kyle Godwin (captain), 12 Henry Taefu, 11 Jordan Olowofela, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Brynard Stander, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Tim Anstee, 5 Fergus Lee-Warner, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Feleti Kaitu’u, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Angus Warner, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Ollie Callan, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Domingo Miotti, 23 Jake Strachan
15 Chase Tiatia, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Jonah Lowe, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber (captain), 8 Luke Jacobson, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Pita Gus Sowakula, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Josh Lord, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 Joe Apikotoa, 19 Zane Kapeli, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Xavier Roe, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Bailyn Sullivan