Super Rugby Aupiki: Defending champions Chiefs Manawa, Matatū to meet in inaugural women's final

Champions Chiefs Manawa will defend their Super Rugby Aupiki crown against South Islanders Matatū in the competition's inaugural final next weekend.

After claiming the maiden title last year through a round robin format, the Waikato side have continued their unbeaten 2023 campaign, overrunning Hurricanes Poua 43-21 to book their spot in the season climax.

Behind a dominant forward pack, the Chiefs seized control of the contest with consecutive tries to fullback Tenika Willison and hooker Luka Connor - both converted by Willison - that gave the titleholders a 21-7 lead midway through the first half.

Matatu celebrate their semi-final win over the Blues
Matatu celebrate their semi-final win over the Blues. Photo credit: Photosport

Hurricanes kept it close and trailed only 28-21 midway through the second, before Willison scored her second try and, with World Cup star Joanah Ngan-Woo yellow-carded, winger Mererangi Paul sealed the game. 

"It's always fun when it's a physical battle, but the girls came out and put their best foot forward," said Chiefs captain Kennedy Simon. "I couldn't be prouder."

The southerners booked their spot in the final with a thrilling 26-23 victory the Blues, with winger Cheyelle Robins-Reti accumulating a hat-trick of tries, including the gamewinner with seven minutes remaining.

The Blues started stronger with a pair of penalties and a try to winger Katelyn Vaha'akolo providing an 11-7 first-half lead, before Robins-Reti struck twice in succession to put the Matatū ahead 19-11 at the break.

The Aucklanders went ahead with 10 minutes remaining through a try from No.8 Liana Mikaele-Tu'u, but the third from Robins-Reti put her team ahead for good.

Matatū went through their inaugural season winless and their only success this year was against the Blues in the opening round.

"That was incredible," said captain Alana Bremner. "You can see how much it means to the girls.

"It was awesome to see the girls, especially the ones off the bench, step up.

"We haven't put together a full 80 yet, but you can see the improvements in both teams since week one and that's what this competition is all about."

Chiefs Manawa 43 (Willison 2, Hohepa, Connor, Simon & Paul tries; Willison 5 conversions, Tubic penalty) Hurricanes Poua 21 (Ngata-Aerengamate, Olsen-Baker & Sae tries; Waterman 3 conversions)

Matatū 26 (Robins-Reti 3, Reynolds tries; Holmes 3 conversions) Blues 23 (Vaha'akolo, Maliepo & Mikaele-Tu'u tries; Cottrell 2 penalties & conversion)