The Chiefs scored two tries in a 12-minute second-half spell to beat the Highlanders 27-21 at Mount Maunganui on Saturday and keep their semi-final hopes alive.
Trailing 15-10 at half-time and encountering fierce resistance from the 11th-placed Highlanders, the Chiefs blew the game open with a try by No 8 Sione Lauaki six minutes after the break.
Prop Sona Taumalolo then burrowed into a ruck and emerged with a try in the 58th minute to put the Chiefs 25-18 up.
Fullback Israel Dagg slotted a penalty to reduce the deficit to six points, but the Highlanders were unable to add to the scoreboard in the last 12 minutes and slumped to their sixth loss from eight matches.
“We started off a bit scratchy with our set piece, our scrum, but I thought our line-out was a hell of a lot better than what it has been,” Chiefs captain Mils Muliaina said in a televised interview.
“So I think big-ups to the forwards and they may have deserved their Easter egg this weekend.”
The win helped the Chiefs banish a confidence-sapping month in which they lost three matches in a row after starting the season with three wins.
Flyhalf Stephen Donald finished with a try and 17 points for the match, slotting all three conversions and two out of three penalty goals.
Both sides struggled to find their rhythm in an uninspiring opening to the first half, but the Highlanders settled first through a drop goal by Robbie Robinson in the 12th minute.
Lock Hayden Triggs then burrowed over the line from a ruck a metre out to give them their first try and an 8-3 lead after a video review.
Donald hit back for the Chiefs, receiving from scrumhalf Mike Delaney after a well-executed line-out then sprinting to the left corner for his team’s first try.
Donald converted his own try to put the Chiefs in front 10-8, but the Highlanders went into the break with a 15-10 lead after Fetu’u Vainikolo crossed at the right-hand corner with his team’s second five-pointer four minutes before half-time.
Tries: Stephen Donald, Sione Lauaki, Sona Taumalolo
Conversions: Donald (3)
Penalties: Donald (2)
Tries: Hayden Triggs, Fetu’u Vainikolo
Conversion: Israel Dagg
Penalties: Dagg (2)
Drop Goal: Robbie Robinson