The Chiefs’ hot streak extended to five wins as Damian McKenzie kicked the match-winning penalty after the full-time siren to seal a 26-24 victory against the Hurricanes in Hamilton on Friday.
Gameflow: The Hurricanes started hot, with lock James Blackwell scoring shortly after kick-off as the Chiefs made a mess of their exit.
The home team spent much of the first quarter putting out fires started in their kitchen by a high-tempo Canes attack, but they eventually gathered their composure through a penalty from McKenzie. Though the Chiefs fullback, who kicked for 16 points, ended the match swamped by celebrating teammates after nailing the winner, it was the tight five that deserve the plaudits for the Waikato outfit’s fifth win on the trot.
A big shove at the set piece sent Pita Sowakula over for a converted try that put the hosts into a 10-7 lead at the half-hour mark. And even though Canes fullback Jordie Barrett levelled the scores just before halftime, tighthead Angus Ta’avao and the rest of the Chiefs tight five laid the foundation for flyhalf Bryn Gatland to dot down for a 20-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
To their credit, the Canes tried to find workarounds to a backpedalling scrum, scoring from counter-attack and a lineout drive to sneak back into a 24-23 lead with 10 minutes to go.
But there was nowhere to hide from two Chiefs scrums at the death, and when the second of those gave McKenzie an opportunity to win the game, he took it.
Missed chances: The contest may have been settled in the first half had the Chiefs not fluffed three opportunities with the tryline at their mercy. Sowakula knocked on in the first quarter as the Chiefs charged at the line with an overlap, and before halftime, centres Anton Leinert-Brown and Alex Nankivell came agonisingly close to pay dirt, with the former spilling the ball in a scoring position while the latter was bundled into touch inches from the tryline.
By the numbers: The teams split possession and territory as the contest produced a tug of war near halfway that featured a variety of clever tactical kicks and probing counter-attacks.
The Chiefs hoisted 29 kicks, mixing contestables with cross-kicks and attacking grass-finders while the Hurricanes (36) leaned on Barrett’s trademark spiral bombs.
McKenzie spearheaded the Chiefs kick-receipt plans, linking up in a back three that ran for 240 metres on 30 carries, beating 12 defenders and creating one clean break.
Barrett alone ran for 130 metres and featured in a Canes backline that made 10 offloads, twice as many as the Chiefs.
Despite the disparity in scrumming prowess, the match featured a total of 15 penalties (seven against the Chiefs) as referee Paul Williams let the teams settle the contest.
Tries: Pita Sowakula, Bryn Gatland. Cons: Damian McKenzie (2). Pens: McKenzie (4).
Tries: James Blackwell, Billy Proctor, Asafo Aumua. Cons: Jordie Barrett (3). Pen: Barrett.