Super Rugby Pacific: Chiefs survive scare against Fijian Drua to book home quarter-final

The Chiefs have held off a stunning late fightback from Fijian Drua, taking a 35-34 victory at Lautoka's Churchill Park.

Leading 35-13 midway through the second half, the Chiefs conceded 21 unanswered points, courtesy of three converted tries for the Drua, and were left needing to survive a nervy final minute for victory.

But survive they did, as Clayton McMillan's side put the location of their first playoff game beyond any doubt.

Pita Gus Sowakula against Fijian Drua.
Pita Gus Sowakula against Fijian Drua. Photo credit: Image - Getty Images

The win sees the Chiefs guaranteed a home quarter-final for the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs, starting next week.

All that's left to determine is who they'll host at FMG Stadium, with fifth place still to be decided between the Hurricanes and Waratahs later on Saturday.

In an error-ridden start to the half from both sides, the Chiefs opened the scoring through an unlikely hero - prop Angus Ta'avao, who barged over from close range after he was put through by Bryn Gatland.

Less than 10 minutes later, the Chiefs were in again as Gatland turned from provider to scorer, as he doubled the visitors' lead midway through the first half.

But spurred on by a raucous home crowd, the Drua stayed in the contest courtesy of some good fortune.

An attempted Drua offload nearly went to ground, but was instead kicked through the Chiefs' line, and was snapped up by centre Apisalome Vota, who held off the defenders to score his side's first and bring the scores back to 14-7.

The Chiefs struck with the final play of the first half, as Fijian-born winger Emoni Narawa scored in the corner from the back of a five-metre scrum, as another Gatland conversion sent the visitors into the break 21-7 ahead.

After the resumption, two penalties to Teti Tela closed the gap to 21-13 in the Chiefs' favour, before the visitors caught the Drua napping.

A Gatland kickoff was batted back into play by winger Vinaya Habosi, where the bounce undid Vota, snapped up by Quinn Tupaea, who found Narawa outside him to score a second.

A penalty try on the Drua tryline extended the Chiefs' lead even further, perhaps allowing complacency to creep in, in the hopes of closing out a comfortable win.

Vota would make up for the earlier mistake in full, and played the key role in the Drua's fightback.

A kick deep into the Drua half was picked up by Habosi, who beat four defenders before finding Kalaveti Ravouvou outside him - beating two more defenders before racing away to score a try of the season contender.

With scores at 35-20 heading into the final 10 minutes, the Drua continued their late surge through, as Vota went over for a second after a penalty against Brodie Retallick that allowed the Drua a quick tap on the five-metre line.

And at 35-27, the Drua scored again, as Vota broke through the Chiefs' defence to find replacement prop Timoci Sauvoli went over - with the successful conversion turning what should have been a routine win into a one-point affair for the visitors.

But time was against the Drua, as a scrum after the siren only resulted in Habosi being bundled into touch, and letting the Chiefs off the hook.

Defeat completes a memorable first season in Super Rugby for the Drua, finishing 11th on the ladder with two victories from their first 15 matches, and giving themselves a platform to build on as they return for the 2023 campaign - and hope for further matches in front of their own fans in Fiji.

Chiefs 35 (Ta'avao, Gatland, Narawa 2, penalty try tries; Gatland 4 conversions)

Fijian Drua 34 (Vota 2, Ravouvou, Sauvoli tries; Tela 4 conversions; Tela 2 penalties)