The Chiefs scored an impressive 28-24 win in Hamilton on Friday, but could not prevent the Hurricanes from securing a home quarter-final. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Chiefs came into this clash without Damian McKenzie, Sam Cane, Sean Wainui and Nathan Harris. Few would have backed them to beat the Hurricanes with a weakened lineup, and even fewer would have bet on them securing a home playoff via a 23-point victory.
And yet, the Chiefs dominated the first half and went to the break with a 21-0 lead. Their second-choice back row bossed the breakdowns – Mitch Karpik was outstanding – and the forwards as a unit set the platform for the backs to exploit some weak Hurricanes defence.
The visitors scored their first points of the game in the 50th minute. Centre Wes Goosen rounded off a counterattack to reduce the deficit – in terms of points and tries.
The Hurricanes scored their second try via No 8 Blade Thomson nine minutes later. After another successful conversion by Jordie Barrett, the visitors were in a position to deny the Chiefs a victory.
Then centre Johnny Fa’auli’s high shot made contact with Goosen’s head. The resultant red card saw the hosts playing out the remaining 18 minutes with 14 men.
The Hurricanes turned down the chance to kick a penalty goal, and opted for a scrum. The visitors powered forward, and replacement prop Ben May crashed over.
The Chiefs finally responded, with Karpik scoring and Marty McKenzie slotting a crucial conversion. That kick ensured that the Chiefs led by nine points with nine minutes left on the clock.
Julian Savea scored after the final hooter, but the replacement winger’s try only served to give the Hurricanes a losing bonus point.
The win marks the Chiefs’ fourth in their last five matches. They appear to be peaking at the right time, and will go into the quarter-final in Wellington next week with belief and momentum.
The Hurricanes, however, have lost four of their last five matches. They may be less than confident ahead of the coming showdown with the Chiefs, a side that will be stronger after welcoming Cane, Damian McKenzie and others back into the lineup.
Chiefs – Tries: Brodie Retallick, Brad Weber, Solomon Alaimalo, Mitch Karpik. Conversions: Marty McKenzie (4).
Hurricanes – Tries: Wes Goosen, Blade Thomson, Ben May, Julian Savea. Conversions: Jordie Barrett (2).
Chiefs – 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Fa’auli, 11 Shaun Stevenson, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Jesse Parete, 7 Mitch Karpik, 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Tyler Ardron, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Liam Polwart, 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Michael Allardice, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Tiaan Falcon, 23 Alex Nankivell.
Hurricanes – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Wes Goosen, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Sam Henwood, 6 Brad Shields (c), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Gareth Evans, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Julian Savea.
Photo: Michael Bradley/Getty Images