The Chiefs started the year staring down the barrel of a record losing streak. Now, scrappy wins are becoming on brand for the club.
For the third game in a row, the Chiefs got the better of a tight encounter on Saturday night as they saw off the Highlanders 26-23 in a golden-point affair in Dunedin.
Thanks in large part to their work at the breakdown, the Chiefs added the scalp of the Southerners to that of the Blues and Hurricanes, putting themselves firmly in contention for a spot in the final.
Led by their loose trio of two-test All Black Luke Jacobson, long-serving forward Mitchell Brown and rookie Kaylum Boshier, the Chiefs made their presence felt over the ball which proved to be a big factor in the outcome of the match.
The Chiefs won six turnovers to the Highlanders' two, while they were awarded a number of penalties at the breakdown as well. The battle at the breakdown was a bright spot in a match that otherwise left plenty to be desired for both teams.
Despite being under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Chiefs' fullback Damian McKenzie and Highlanders No 10 Mitchell Hunt struggled with the attempts on goal, leaving plenty of points on the kicking tee in the first half.
Both sides were hit with injury woes, as Chiefs midfielder Quinn Tupaea and Highlanders lock Pari Pari Parkinson succumbed to first-half injuries and were replaced at the break.
The Chiefs also had considerable struggles with their lineout, which was almost costly late as the Highlanders forced an error from the set piece deep inside Chiefs territory. It was an error that ultimately only cost the side three points, which saw the Highlanders level the score at 23, which forced the game into extra time – with McKenzie kicking the winning penalty in golden point.
The Chiefs got the better of the opening exchanges, with wing Etene Nanai-Seturo putting the first point on the board.
James Lentjes hit back moments later for the hosts on a set play from a lineout just inside the Chiefs' 22m. It was the first time all year the Highlanders scored a try in the first 20 minutes.
A McKenzie penalty gave the Chiefs a five-point lead at the break, however that lasted all of two minutes into the second half as Aaron Smith crossed for the Highlanders.
The sides continued to match one another across the park and the chance of golden point rugby looked more and more likely with every passing second, Ioane's late penalty to level to scores ensuring it would.
It was the first game to go to golden point since the rule was introduced, and after Anton Lienert-Brown won a penalty at the breakdown, McKenzie stepped up to be the hero.
Chiefs 26 (Etene Nanai-Seturo, Angus Ta'avao tries; Damian McKenzie 2 cons, 4 pens)
Highlanders 23 (James Lentjes, Aaron Smith, Josh Ioane tries; Ioane con, pen, Mitchell Hunt pen)