The Chiefs have clung to a rapidly diminishing lead to beat the Fijian Drua 35-24 in a thrilling match which allowed them to clinch a home quarter-final in Super Rugby Pacific.
The last match of the Drua’s inaugural season in Super Rugby was played in front of a packed house at Churchill Park in Lautoka, Fiji’s second city. Every inch of the ground was filled and spectators occupied every tree or other vantage point overlooking the ground to see what turned out to be one of the most compelling matches of the season.
The Chiefs led 35-13 with only 14 minutes remaining and they must have felt the job was done in hot, humid and sapping conditions.
The Drua launched an extraordinary comeback, scoring three tries in the last 10 minutes to make the match a cliff-hanger. The hosts attacked from everywhere and the weary Chiefs only just managed to hang on to the vital points they needed to ensure a finish among the top four teams.
“I thought we’d played our one and only get out of jail free card against the Rebels a couple of weeks ago but it turns out we’ve got two,” Chiefs captain Brad Weber said.
“We just feel a sense of relief more than anything.
“Man, hats off to the Drua. That last 10 or 15 minutes they were just unbelievable. I haven’t seen tries scored like that in my whole career. It just feels incredibly lucky to be able to win.”
Weber created a try for winger Emoni Narawa as the Chiefs led 21-7 at halftime. Prop Angus Ta’avao and five-eighth Bryn Gatland scored tries within the first 20 minutes and Weber’s touchdown just before the break gave the Chiefs a comfortable advantage.
The Chiefs went further ahead with a second try to Fiji-born Narawa and looked to have the game under control when they were awarded a penalty try at a scrum in the 66th minute, making the lead 22 points.
Roared on by the crowd, the Drua refused to be denied. They hit back first with a magnificent counter-attacking try to Kalaveti Ravouvou and added another five minutes later to Apisalome Vota.
The stadium erupted when replacement prop Timoci Sauvoli scored under the posts with a minute on the clock and the conversion cut the Chiefs’ lead to a single point.
The Drua gained a final possession but the match ended before they could make their rally a winning one.