Chiefs underdogs as Waikato holds its breath
Can the Crusaders tonight stop the thrill-ride the Chiefs have taken us on for the last two Super Rugby seasons?
That is the question for Chiefs fans as well as the region's bean counters.
For two years now the Chiefs have thrilled with their new-found success under a new coaching group and with a new bunch of players, winning the Super Rugby title for the first time last year and this year qualifying No 1 for the playoffs.
Win the semifinal tonight at 7.35 against the hot favourite Crusaders at Waikato Stadium and the Chiefs are guaranteed a home final at the same venue a week later.
Lose and their season ends, while the Crusaders head to either South Africa or Australia for the final against the winner of tomorrow morning's (NZ time) semifinal between the Bulls and Brumbies in Pretoria.
The TAB has made the Crusaders firm favourites at $1.47 to the Chiefs' $2.55 and many around the country are predicting a walkover to the All Blacks-laden Cantabrians based on their 43-15 towelling of the Chiefs the last time they met and their 38-9 thumping of the Reds in last weekend's qualifier.
But both those matches were in Christchurch and the Chiefs have been unbeatable in the big matches at Waikato Stadium the last two seasons.
The Chiefs are already guaranteed another profitable season after record takings last year and if they can sell out the 25,000-capacity stadium or go close to it tomorrow a home final would merely be a little cream on top for the franchise's money men who would have to deduct expenses for the visiting team from overseas.
It is expected the match will go close to selling out, although ticket sales have lagged slightly behind those for the equivalent game last year.
Chiefs chief executive Gary Dawson said last night close to, but not quite, 20,000 tickets had been sold by the end of yesterday's trading.
"It's fairly similar to last year's semifinal when we sold out just before kickoff," Mr Dawson said.
And the weather looks set to hold out for the game as well, with MetService meteorologist John Law's only word of warning was for fans to don the right kind of scarf to Waikato Stadium.
"It's great weather for it, I have to say," Mr Law said.
"We've got a little bit more cloud spilling in from the west, but on the whole it's looking like a dry day and a pretty decent one."
The temperature is expected to drop from a high of 15 degrees Celsius to 1C overnight. The mercury will dive when the sun dips below the horizon at 5.28pm.