Giant prop Ben Tameifuna scored two tries as defending champions the Waikato Chiefs took a four-try bonus point from a 23-16 win over the Auckland Blues yesterday to clinch home advantage in the Super 15 semi-finals.
The Chiefs’ 12th win from 16 regular-season matches propelled them to the top of the championships ladder ahead of a match later yesterday between the Pretoria-based Northern Bulls and Cape Town-based Western Stormers. If the Bulls win that match they will regain first place and an assurance of home advantage in the semi-finals and the final, if they progress that far.
The Chiefs clinched first place in the New Zealand conference when the Christchurch-based Canterbury Crusaders missed out on a bonus point in a 25-17 win over the Wellington Hurricanes on Friday. Their win over the Blues ensured they can finish no further back than second, regardless of the outcome of the Bulls’ match.
The Chiefs entered the match two points behind the Bulls on the overall standings after their loss to the Crusaders last weekend. The Crusaders’ failure to take an extra point from their match against the Hurricanes secured the Chiefs’ first place in the New Zealand conference, but left their automatic qualification for the semi-finals in doubt.
They began the match only two points ahead of the ACT Brumbies and needing to win to claim one of the top two places on the ladder at the end of the regular season, pending the Bulls’ clash with the Stormers.
The top two teams at the end of the season win the luxury of a bye in the first round of playoffs, while the fourth to sixth-placed teams contest the quarter-finals.
They are also assured a home match in the semi-finals. The top-placed team in the playoffs retain home advantage through to the final.
The Chiefs and Blues went to halftime locked at 13-13 yesterday after a first half in which the lead changed hands three times.
A try to center Bundee Aki gave the Chiefs an 8-3 lead after 13 minutes, during which little separated the teams. The Blues were reduced to 14 men when flanker Kane Barrett was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle in the 23rd minute, but still managed to reclaim the lead with a try to fullback Charles Piutau.
Hooker Hika Elliot scored to put the Chiefs ahead again in the 35th minute and penalties left the teams tied at the interval.
The 140kg Tameifuna drove over for two tries in the second half to clinch the match for the Chiefs and to leave final placings in doubt until the last match of the regular season.