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Chiefs finally make it into final

WAIKATO captain Mils Muliaina scored a decisive second-half try to lift the Chiefs to a 14-10 win over the Wellington Hurricanes yesterday and into a Super 14 rugby final for the first time in their 14-year history.

The All Blacks fullback started and finished a brilliant counterattack in the 53rd minute, scoring under the posts to make the conversion a formality, lifting the Chiefs to a 14-7 lead after the teams had been locked 7-7 at halftime.

Muliaina then played a critical role in marshaling the Chiefs' unyielding defense, allowing the Hurricanes only a penalty in the last 27 minutes of a bitterly fought match which left both teams with a long list of injuries.

In the final seconds of the match, at a ruck on the Chiefs' goal line and with the Waikato Stadium blanketed with thick fog which made the players virtually invisible to spectators, the Hurricanes turned the ball over, ensuring the Chiefs would advance to the final.

Waikato, which was playing in a semifinal for only the second time, will play the winner of today's second semifinal in Pretoria between South Africa's Bulls, the 2007 champions, and the Canterbury Crusaders, the reigning titleholders.

The Bulls will host if they win.

"The heart and dedication that went into those last 15 minutes and produced defense of that quality were just incredible," Muliaina said. "You can't train for that. You just have to have that tightness and that togetherness as a group and we've had that all season."

In a game in which both teams kicked excessively, Waikato gained a vital advantage in the way its back three - Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Lelia Masaga - fielded and returned kicks.

Muliaina's try came when he fielded a misdirected kick from Wellington flyhalf Willie Ripia. He flicked the ball quickly to Sivivatu, who laid open the Wellington defense and linked with halfback Toby Morland who gave the final pass to Muliaina. Stephen Donald converted.


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