It was the biggest moment of Ian Foster’s coaching career, but for a while there he didn’t have the foggiest idea whether his Chiefs had made it through to their first ever Super 14 final. Or not.
They had. But it was touch and go there at the end as it wasn’t only the fog that descended on the desperate Chiefs as they clung to their 14-10 lead, but the Hurricanes as well as they pounded at their hosts’ line looking for the last-minute try that would have stolen this game.
Marc Hinton writes for Rugbyheaven NZ that they were surreal final moments of a match played in otherwise cool, crisp but clear conditions. As the fog rolled in for the final three minutes, Foster conceded it added to the drama of an unbelievably tense occasion.
“I think it was better not being able to see it, to be honest,” he said after his side’s two tries to one victory that takes them into a final against either the Bulls or Crusaders. “We just kept listening for the whistle. It certainly added to the drama didn’t it?
“I thought the tension was great for a semifinal. It was on the line, we were defending hard out. I thought the Hurricanes over that last 20 minutes threw a lot at us. Just our tenacity in defence was fantastic.
“To finish the game hard on our goal-line with the fog coming in… they probably scored two tries and no one saw it. It was a great game.”
Chiefs skipper Mils Muliaina, who scored the decisive second try for the Chiefs early in the second spell, admitted he was as much in the dark as his coach while his team-mates dug in for their goal-line stand. While 25,000 people strained to see what was going on in amid a phalanx of bodies on the line, eventually Stuart Dickinson’s whistle blew to signal there had been a Canes knock-on.
“Gee she was pretty nerve-racking stuff,” said Muliaina. “Fozzie said he couldn’t see it but I couldn’t see anything either. It was only when I could see guys jumping up and down I knew something hadn’t gone wrong.
“There were probably a couple of times there we probably should have closed it out down in their half, and we got a little bit flustered. I’m just absolutely proud of the way the guys played tonight.
“You can’t train being that tight and tonight heart really got us that win in the end. To ‘D’ up with three or so minutes left, I just can’t express enough how proud I am of our boys.”
And while inevitably some of the attention from this splendid semifinal will go on the Hurricanes and yet another semifinal defeat – their fifth in six appearances at this stage of the season – really the focus deserves to be on a splendid Chiefs side that has now won 10 of its last 11 matches.
Ad Feedback “It was tight and it was intense, and it was a shame there had to be a loser,” said Foster. “We played well in that game. It wasn’t perfect, but we played well for 60 minutes and then we defended well for that last 20. But they showed a lot of spirit and they came back at us very, very hard and it could have been another result on another day I guess.”
But it wasn’t. And once again these Canes have got to this stage of the season, only to come up short when it counts.
Muliaina said it had been all about belief for a Chiefs side written off by most pundits through the week after they’d lost Brendon Leonard, Ben May and Richard Kahui all to injury.
“We’ve always believed we can make it this far. We said it during the week. Although we had guys pull out, I think Toby Morland had an outstanding game, [Dwayne] Sweeney was solid. We lost some experience but those guys put their hands up tonight.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the Chiefs on a night when tries to Sione Lauaki and Muliaina outdid the lone strike by Ma’a Nonu for the Hurricanes.
With Kahui still in major doubt and unlikely to travel to South Africa if the Bulls prevail in the second semifinal, they have fresh concerns to Lauaki and outstanding wing Sitiveni Sivivatu to worry about for the rest of the weekend.
Lauaki took a knock to his neck/head area early in the second spell and struggled on until the 52nd-minute mark before eventually being pulled. Sivivatu has a numb shoulder that he admitted afterwards was a concern.
“They don’t look that significant,” said Foster of the fresh blows. “But it’s hard to tell with our injuries at the moment. Richard is certainly getting better and I’m pretty sure that performance might have got him a little bit better again.”
Foster said Kahui’s suspected calf muscle tear will be further monitored over the weekend, but it’s unlikely he’ll head to South Africa should that be the task.
But the Chiefs coach did know one thing. With his team making its first ever final, after its first ever home semifinal, that it simply doesn’t get any better as a coach.
“Well, it’s hard to beat isn’t it? It’s a culmination of being part of this group that’s worked so hard, gone through some trials and it feels like we’re expressing ourselves and growing. It’s just great to be part of this group.”
Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper said his side had given itself a chance but “we weren’t good enough in the end”.
He also conceded his men “might have” kicked too much ball down the throats of that accomplished Chiefs back three.
“We tried to play the territory game… but we just seemed to lose the ball at crucial times,” said the despondent Canes coach who admitted he was “pretty gutted” at yet another semifinal exit.
This, after all, was supposed to be the year that all that finals experience paid off for the Canes. Instead they kicked all the ball away and watched on as their inexperienced hosts played most of the football.
“We’ve been here a few times and failed, so we were certainly equipped. But it wasn’t to be in the end,” added Cooper.
As the fog settled over the scramble of bodies on the Chiefs line, we all held our breath. Then came the whistle, and the signal of the knock-on. Twenty-five thousand people were put out of their misery and 22 more just started contemplating theirs.Tweet