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Chiefs shock top-ranked Hurricanes

WELLINGTON (AP) – The Hamilton-based Chiefs have reached the final of Super Rugby Pacific for the second consecutive year, beating the top-ranked Hurricanes 30-19 in the second semi-final yesterday.

They will play the Auckland-based Blues, who will host the final after beating the ACT Brumbies 34-20 on Friday. The Chiefs hosted the 2023 final in which they lost 25-20 to the Canterbury-based Crusaders.

Backrower Wallace Sititi had a breakout game for the Chiefs, claiming the intercept that led to a 62nd-minute try to Daniel Rona which helped seal the game for the Chiefs. Flyhalf Damian McKenzie kicked six goals from six attempts.

The Wellington-based Hurricanes had made the pace for most of the regular season and went into the playoffs as top seed. But they made a dawdling and that shaped the Chiefs’ win as they scored two tries in the first six minutes.

The Hurricanes took 21 minutes to score their first try and by that stage the Chiefs had scored tries through Samipeni Finau and Cortez Ratima and led 17-0.

At the same time, the Hurricanes departed from their usual game plan, played an uncharacteristic and inaccurate kicking game and that also helped the Chiefs, as they did the Hurricanes’ early indiscipline. The Chiefs defended flat and fast and that forced handling errors from the Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes trailed 17-7 at halftime and 20-7 just after the break. They finally began to show urgency in the 56th minute when they held the ball and used the width of the field to create a try to flyhalf Brett Cameron.

That made the score 20-14 and the Hurricanes were back in the match. Their fans who had been mostly silent regained their voice.

But Sititi’s intercept turned the match. He picked off a pass between Cameron and Jordie Barrett and dashed for the goal line. He was cut down just short by Devon Flanders but the Chiefs recycled the ball quickly and moved it to Rona on the short side before the defence could regroup. With the conversion and a penalty to McKenzie, the Chiefs led 30-14. The Hurricanes rallied again and scored through captain Billy Proctor who touched down the left corner after a long build-up. Cameron’s conversion swung wide of the posts and the Chiefs led 30-19.

The Chiefs’ rapid start began with a try in the third minute to Samipeni Finau after a long, bustling run by winger Emoni Narawa who wrong-footed Barrett and TJ Perenara.

Scrumhalf Cortez Ratima scored in the sixth minute when a clearing kick by the Chiefs was charged down but bounced fortuitously for Sititi who ignited a counter-attack.

Cameron’s try came with Chiefs captain Luke Jacobson in the sin-bin. But the Chiefs were able to hold out the Hurricanes who once again fell short on the big occasion.

Harry Plummer takes a high ball during the Super Rugby Pacific semi-final match at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. PHOTO: AP