The Hurricanes will host the Super Rugby final after securing an impressive 25-9 win over the Chiefs in Saturday’s semi-final in Wellington. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
The Canes can take a bow. Their performance at the Westpac Stadium was complemented by brains and brawn, with the hosts taking their opportunities on attack and defending like men possessed.
Beauden Barrett produced an inspirational performance at flyhalf, scoring a try and creating another in the first half, while Ardie Savea was outstanding in the loose trio, completing 17 tackles, making 80m and winning three turnovers.
While this game was expected to offer up plenty of entertainment in terms of attacking play, the Canes’ victory was ultimately built on an outstanding defensive display augmented by suffocating line speed.
In the end, the Canes were forced to make 113 tackles to 68, and while they did miss 21 (compared to 14), their abrasive efforts on defence constantly thwarted the efforts of the Chiefs.
Coming into the clash, the Chiefs had scored the equal-most number of tries (76), and had established themselves as arguably the most lethal attacking side in the competition, and yet they failed to score a single try against the tireless Canes.
By contrast, it appeared as if the Chiefs’ travels from New Zealand to Cape Town and then to Wellington finally caught up with them.
Ultimately, it is not the result the Lions would have been hoping for as a Chiefs victory would have enabled them to host the final if they defeated the Highlanders later on Saturday. The winner of the Ellis Park semi-final will now need to travel to Wellington, where the Canes will be favourites to go one step further than last year.
The Hurricanes suffered a setback in the lead-up to Saturday’s clash when inspirational captain Dane Coles was ruled out due to his rib injury, but young Ricky Riccitelli filled in with aplomb, and there were very few areas where the Canes came off second best in Wellington.
The tempo of the encounter was set from the outset as both sides displayed their willingness to keep the ball in hand, and it didn’t take long for a moment of magic to materialise.
It came from Barrett, who chipped and collected his own kick from within his own half, sped around a defender and then popped a beautiful ball for flying Willis Halaholo to finish off one of the tries of the season as early as the seventh minute.
Despite the early strike from the Canes, it was the Chiefs who enjoyed the better of the possession and territory in the opening quarter, while the hosts were guilty of conceding repeated penalties as the pressure began to build.
A penalty from Damian McKenzie reduced the deficit to two points, while over a 10-minute period before the half-hour mark, the Canes gave away four penalties as the Chiefs bashed away in the red zone, but ultimately their efforts came to naught.
The Chiefs’ inability to score any points during this period would have stung, while a subsequent 90m breakout from the Canes soon after suddenly saw the hosts surge on to attack after weathering an extended storm.
Unlike the Chiefs, they opted to take a shot at goal as soon as they won a penalty, and Barrett duly kicked the Canes into a handy 8-3 lead, while two minutes later the magic man in the No 10 jersey popped up again to pick off an intercept and dash 50m to score under the posts.
After being under siege, the Canes powered into a 12-point advantage, with last year’s Super Rugby runners-up once again illustrating just how devastating they are when it comes to making the most of limited opportunities.
Although McKenzie did draw three points back for the Chiefs just before the break, the Canes happily banked a 15-6 half-time lead, particularly considering they’d had just 37% of possession and been forced to make more than double the amount of tackles (55 to 24).
The Canes would have been determined to hang on to the ball a bit more in the second half, and they made the perfect start when they worked their way into Chiefs territory and won a 5m scrum, with No 8 Victor Vito breaking off the back to score his team’s third try in the 48th minute.
McKenzie and Barrett traded penalties before the hour mark, but it was the Canes who were importantly able to hold on to a 16-point buffer heading into the final quarter.
The visitors appeared to receive a lifeline when Canes winger Cory Jane was shown a yellow card in the 62nd minute for a deliberate knockdown, but again the hosts' defence stood strong as they kept the Chiefs scoreless despite their one-man disadvantage.
The Chiefs' night was ultimately summed up when replacement Brad Weber knocked the ball on with the tryline at his mercy late in the game, and from there the Canes closed out an emphatic victory.
Hurricanes – Tries: Willis Halaholo, Beauden Barrett, Victor Vito. Conversions: Barrett (2). Penalties: Barrett (2).
Chiefs – Penalties: Damian McKenzie (3).
Hurricanes – 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Jason Woodward, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Loni Uhila.
Subs: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Mike Kainga, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Vince Aso, 23 Julian Savea.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sam McNicol, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Lachlan Boshier, 20 Michael Leitch, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Toni Pulu, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Photo: Martin Hunter/AFP Photo