The Chiefs claimed an 11th win of the season as they edged the Hurricanes 17-14 in Wellington on Friday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
It’s a crucial result for the Chiefs in the context of the ultra-competitive Kiwi conference, with the win drawing them to within one log point of the Hurricanes, who did manage to pick up a losing bonus point. Yet it's a result that also enables the Crusaders to remain nine points clear, and are now assured of top spot in the conference.
In some ways, this encounter effectively served as a compelling curtain-raiser ahead of a host of international fixtures on Saturday, and while the two in-form New Zealand sides displayed plenty of endeavour, they lacked their usual ball-in-hand accuracy.
As the first-half stats indicated, both teams put boot to ball on just 24 occasions in total, while the Chiefs completed 305m to 195 on attack, and yet the two teams could only manage a solitary try each in the opening stanza.
Canes lock Vaea Fifita scored early on to place the hosts on the front foot, but over the next half-hour the Chiefs went close to scoring on three occasions, and were repeatedly denied by desperate scrambling defence.
In the end, all the visitors had to show for their efforts was a 24th-minute try finished off by Aaron Cruden, which drew the scores level at 7-7, and that it would remain until half-time.
Frustration continued to build in the third quarter as both teams continued to battle to breach the defence, while failing to display the necessary patience with ball in hand.
However, the Canes then seemed to have an opening when opposing lock Michael Allardice was shown a yellow card on the hour mark for charging into a ruck with his shoulder. Instead, it would be the Chiefs who struck next with a stunning try.
Coming off the bench, Shaun Stevenson produced a beautiful step to break away from within his own half, before spinning a well-timed pass to flying winger James Lowe, who dotted down with 15 minutes left to play.
The result was then effectively sealed when Damian McKenzie slotted a simple penalty in the 76th-minute to open up an unassailable 10-point buffer.
South African-born Wes Goosen did score a late try for the Canes, which at least secured them a bonus point.
Hurricanes – Tries: Vaea Fifita, Wes Goosen. Conversions: Jordie Barrett (2).
Chiefs – Tries: Aaron Cruden, James Lowe. Conversions: Damian McKenzie (2). Penalty: McKenzie.
Hurricanes – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Vaea Fifita, 4 Sam Lousi, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Leni Apisai, 1 Chris Eves.
Subs: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Loni Uhila, 18 Mike Kainga, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Matt Proctor, 23 Wes Goosen.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie. 14 Solomon Alaimalo, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane , 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Tom Sanders, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Alex Nankivell, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images