James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Rugby: Chiefs expect sellout crowd for semifinal

Liam Messam (with ball) shows the exciting style of rugby that has won the Chiefs many more fans this season. Photo / Alan Gibson
Liam Messam (with ball) shows the exciting style of rugby that has won the Chiefs many more fans this season. Photo / Alan Gibson

Tickets to the Chiefs' Super 15 semifinal showdown are expected to sell out quickly as Hamilton gears up for the biggest rugby match of the season.

The team has built a stronger following than ever this year, says chief executive officer Gary Dawson, who puts the popularity down to frequent wins, the team's style of rugby and the overall public interest in the game.

New Zealand Rugby Union figures support his claim, showing a 97 per cent increase in the Chiefs' crowd attendances this year - the biggest increase of any franchise.

"The game has regained a lot of interest, so not only do we have a lot of people coming to the game, we have got record viewer numbers as well."

He said the semifinal was likely to sell out quickly when tickets go on sale on July 24.

Two losses at the wrong end of the season could have Chiefs fans worried that their team mistimed their run as the playoffs for the Super 15 series loom.

But Sport Waikato's chief executive, former All Black Matthew Cooper, says the Chiefs still have the game that makes them the team to beat.

Chiefs fans took to Facebook to vent their frustrations after the team's 28-25 injury-time loss to the Hurricanes on Friday.

A television match official awarded a try by Hurricanes hooker Dane Coles despite several replays showing no clear evidence the ball was grounded over the tryline.

The loss, the Chiefs' second on the trot after the Crusaders beat them 28-21 in Hamilton the week before, left them second in the Super 15 rankings and slowed their momentum, although they held on to top spot in the New Zealand conference.

The team have a week off to regroup before playing their semifinal at Waikato Stadium against the highest-ranked qualifier winner out of the Reds, Crusaders or Bulls on July 27 or 28 .

Despite the losses, Cooper believes the Chiefs are one of the few sides able to take risks and "the one team who can potentially damage another team".

The Chiefs would be looking to minimise errors and improve decision-making - the two areas he believes cost them their last two matches - as they enter the sudden-death stage of the series.

Chiefs' season members can reactivate their season members' seat and order tickets for the semi from today.

- NZ Herald

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