The Waratahs are already looking to 2023 after the Chiefs ruthlessly ended NSW’s gallant revival season with a 39-15 victory in the second Super Rugby Pacific quarter-final in Hamilton.
A rare finals triumph in New Zealand proved a bridge too far the Waratahs, who followed up a depressing winless campaign in 2021 with an exciting resurgence under first-year coach Darren Coleman.
But the Chiefs were too clinical on Saturday, punishing the Waratahs for every error as Coleman’s men often lacked an edge with their own attacking opportunities.
“Credit to the Chiefs. They’re a classy outfit and they’ve had the wood on us all year and were great tonight,” said Waratahs captain Jake Gordon.
“They’re really hard to contain when they get that front-foot ball and off turnover attack they’re exceptional.
“They really punish you for your mistakes. We had opportunities in their 22 later in that game and we weren’t good enough.”
The Chiefs crossed after just five minutes when halfback Brad Weber looped around from a lineout win and stormed through a gaping hole in the NSW defence to score under the posts.
The Tahs hit straight back with a stylish effort to Dylan Pietsch after the winger recovered a clever kick from fullback Ben Donaldson.
Two penalty goals to flyhalf Bryn Gatland and further tries to flanker Luke Jacobson and centre Alex Nankivell, who pounced on a Waratahs knock-on in their own quarter, earned the Chiefs a 27-10 halftime advantage.
Will Harris gave the Waratahs a glimmer of hope with a five-pointer shortly after the break.
But the hosts sealed victory with Weber’s second strike then a powerful short-range effort from Pita Gus Sowakula to set up a semi-final against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
“It’s incredibly satisfying,” said Chiefs captain Weber.
“Coming to a home quarter-final and I haven’t had one here and I’ve been here for nine years, 110 games now.
“So my first home playoff and it was pretty cool.”
While the Chiefs march on, Gordon said the Waratahs had every reason to be proud of their turnaround from the lows of last year.
“Last year was a tough year for the franchise and for the team and to bounce back like we have, we have a lot of growth left in us,” Gordon said.
“We’re going to keep growing and we’ll be a better outfit next year.
“The guys will be a year older, a little bit more experienced and we’re excited for it.”