John Weekes

John Weekes is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Wellington.

Nation hails Chiefs win

Devoted fans watch Super Rugby final at city's party central.

Hamilton celebrated the city's biggest sporting occasion with a huge street party last night after a rampant Chiefs side smashed the Sharks in the Super 15 final.

Nearly 26,000 squeezed into Waikato Stadium and hundreds more packed into two specially set-up fanzones and bars throughout town on a wet and cold night.

Sonny Bill Williams scored a try with his last touch of the ball in a Chiefs jersey before he heads to Japan, leaping into the crowd as they won 37-6.

Fans began pouring into central Hamilton after the final whistle.

A procession of proud supporters drove down Victoria St after the game, tooting, waving flags, yelling and shaking cow bells.

Asena Pouli, 17, stood in the middle of the road. "You can probably tell, I'm pretty ecstatic," she said. "It's such a great feeling. It just brings out tears, emotions, and everything."

Ryan Parkes and his fiancee Khrystal Gartner travelled with friends from Te Awamutu. "I was exhilarated," Gartner said. Parkes said the Chiefs made him "proud to be from the Waikato".

The celebrations will continue through the weekend and into tomorrow, when a victory parade through central Hamilton is planned for 12.30pm.

Earlier, fans braved the wet conditions to watch the game on large screens in Hood St and Garden Place.

In Garden Place, the Baker family from Hamilton's Hillcrest gathered under an umbrella in front of the big screen. "This is awesome," said Naomi Baker. Her husband David and daughter Leilani said the whole town had "lit up" thanks to the rugby.

Bouncer Zane Keating described the night as "the biggest night in Hamilton's history".

Diggers bar manager Hayley Ryan, 22, has lived in Hamilton all her life and said last night was as big as it got. "I would compare this to the Rugby World Cup. It's fantastic, everyone is in such a good mood," she said.

Just a block away from the stadium, a rugby-mad group of Kiwis, South Africans and Americans gathered at Ian Corder's house as excitement built before the final.

Corder and his sons Gareth and Brody explained how the group found themselves at his house. "Rugby brings people together. Rugby and alcohol," the Sharks fans joked.

Chiefs supporter Simon Stevens said the match was especially poignant for Waikato fans. "It's done a lot for the game in the region. It's a massive step forward for them. The culture they've created this year and the players they've bought have really developed," Stevens said.

"I think it's a shame that Sonny Bill - or Money Bill - Williams is moving on," he added.

Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker said with the success of the Magics netball team and local Olympians, the Chiefs' victory capped a marvellous period for the region.

"The whole thing has come together so the atmosphere in the city is absolutely electric. It's almost like a New Zealand versus South Africa match.

"This is an important return on investment and great for our economy," she said.

Ticketing agency Ticket Direct said it would change the way it sold tickets after a ticketing debacle meant thousands of Chiefs supporters missed out after queuing for hours.

Air New Zealand marked the win by issuing 1000 grabaseat tickets at the price of the winning margin - $31.

- Herald on Sunday

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