The Chiefs kept their slender hopes of winning Vodacom Super Rugby for a third successive time alive when they beat the Hurricanes 24-16 in their penultimate league fixture in Hamilton on Friday.
It was one of the rare occasions this season that the Chiefs have been able to get both their forwards and backs to fire together at the same time and with the aggressive defence of the past successful campaigns returning, the Hurricanes were just not allowed to get their usual flowing playing style to get going.
For the Chiefs it was a significant lift from a series of mediocre performances that have left them listing well off the pace in the championship race. One of those poor performances was their big loss a few weeks ago to the same Hurricanes opponents, so the Chiefs can consider themselves to have avenged one of their low points of the season.
The Hurricanes needed to win to keep their own championship hopes alive and this defeat is likely to end their challenge as it was their last match and there are no longer any points given for the bye, which the Hurricanes take next week. They started the weekend fifth, and they are still there, but are just one point ahead of the sixth placed Brumbies and the now seventh placed Chiefs and they don’t have any more games to play.
So what they require is for the teams below them to fail to pick up any log points in the remaining rounds of the competition, something which appears a big ask.
The Chiefs, by contrast, go to Eden Park next week to play the Blues knowing that a win will probably be enough for them to force themselves into the play-offs. Championship teams are the ones that get going when the big moments arrive, and the rest of the competitors should perhaps see the Chiefs’ performance in Hamilton as an ominous warning that they have back their drive and self-belief.
It was a nervous start from both teams, with Aaron Cruden missing an early penalty and the Hurricanes failing to make the most of some early momentum. The first points were scored in the 20th minute when Cruden kicked a penalty but Barrett drew one back just two minutes later.
The first big note in the game was struck by the Chiefs in the 28th minute, when they set up an attacking lineout. They were held up just short of the line but had the put in at the scrum. Chiefs loosehead Jamie Mackintosh was put under pressure at that scrum but the home team recovered from it, with the forwards showing patience as they picked and drove the ball up for Mac that was awarded for Mackintosh to be the man to dot down.
The Hurricanes were under pressure then, and although Barrett kicked a penalty to stretch the difference to four points, the Chiefs were able to regain the seven point buffer almost immediately. Ironically, or perhaps unforgivably, both those penalties were for players being in front of the kicker.
The Chiefs though were gaining momentum at the end of the half and forward pressure forced another penalty which Cruden kicked as the break arrived to allow the home team to take a confidence building 16-6 lead into the halftime recess.
The Hurricanes’ best period in the game was the 10 minutes after halftime, and after Barrett had kicked a penalty to draw back to a seven point deficit, they might have been right back in it by the 50 minute mark had they made the most of their opportunities. But they didn’t, Barrett was short and wide with another penalty opportunity, and that seemed to be the cue for the Chiefs to rediscover their intensity. They did most of the attacking in the next six minutes, and while a poor option from Tim Nanai-Williams when he kicked into touch in goal as his team built up near the line may have cost the Chiefs a try, they were able to get something out of their territorial dominance when Cruden kicked a penalty from in front to make it 19-9.
Then came a slippery run from Cruden up the middle, with good support play being the key note for the Chiefs as they swept upfield. Cruden’s long pass out to Brodie Retallick might have been marginally forward but when the referee asked the TMO to tell him if there was any reason not to award the try it was only the grounding of the ball that was focused on. So the try was awarded and the match was effectively over as a contest at the Chiefs took a 15 point lead with 18 minutes to play.
Talking of Retallick, the All Black lock is developing into quite a formidable rugby specimen, with his try being just reward for a performance where he did just about everything for the Chiefs aside from kick for posts. He was responsible for some crucial turn-overs that halted the Hurricanes’ momentum too.
The Hurricanes were given brief hope when Hadleigh Parkes dotted down near the posts off a well executed lineout move, but the last chance the Hurricanes had of catching the Chiefs was extinguished when Barrett missed an angled penalty in the 75th minute. They might though rue their decision not to kick for goal with another penalty shortly after that as the three points would have given them a much needed losing bonus point.
Chiefs – Tries: Jamie Mackintosh, Brodie Retallick.Conversions:. Aaron Cruden(2).Penalties: Aaron Cruden(2).
Hurricanes –Tries:Hadleigh Parkes. Conversions: Beauden Barrett. Penalties: Beauden Barrett(3).