The Waikato Chiefs yesterday kept their playoff hopes alive when two tries from captain Brad Weber delivered a 29-23 Super Rugby victory over the Coastal Sharks, while the Otago Highlanders hung on to beat the Jaguares.
It moved the Chiefs off the bottom of the New Zealand conference and within two points of making the top eight.
The Highlanders, who beat the Jaguares 32-27 after holding a 13-point lead at halftime, are in fifth place overall, while the Jaguares slipped back to seventh.
The Sharks, backing up from holding the table-topping Canterbury Crusaders to a draw last week, at least gained a losing bonus point to edge ahead of the Northern Bulls and Jaguares in the South Africa group.
The Chiefs looked out of the contest when they trailed the Sharks 23-17, before producing two tries in two minutes to snatch the result.
“I certainly think last week against the ’Landers helped. We had to go to a deep, dark place to get that so we knew if we stuck at it, it could be ours,” Weber said.
Sharks captain Louis Schreuder blamed a lapse of concentration for letting the game slip away.
“Small mistakes, one a line break from a lineout and one from a kickoff and two tries. That’s what cost us,” he said.
The Chiefs pressured the Sharks line for the first 10 minutes, but their only reward was a penalty by Marty McKenzie.
After a concerted defensive effort staved off a relentless Sharks’ attack, hooker Atu Moli led the Chiefs back on attack for Weber to score their opening try to start a flurry of scoring in the closing 15 minutes of the half.
A Curwin Bosch penalty and a converted try to Hyron Andrews, with the big lock out-running the Chiefs backs, leveled the score at 10-10, before Mitch Karpik scored a second try for the Chiefs and Bosch landed a second penalty.
The second half saw both sides employ kick-and-chase tactics in the search for territory and eventually it was the Chiefs who cracked first.
Bosch stretched the lead with a penalty before the Chiefs regained control with the tries of Anton Lienert-Brown and Weber.
The Jaguares took the unconventional move of stacking their bench with an army of internationals and starting with a largely untested combination against the Highlanders.
At halftime they were down 26-13, before Agustin Creevy, Tomas Lavanini, Pablo Matera and Thomas Cubelli came off the bench and they closed with five points before their chance of victory was undone by a string of late penalties.
“We did a great job in coming back to the game,” Cubelli said. “But the end of the game was a bit frustrating. We’ll have to double, even triple-check some of the penalties at the end.”
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