The Hurricanes progressed to the Super Rugby semi-finals with a hard-fought 32-31 victory over the Chiefs at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Friday.
Tries from Julian Savea, Ben Lam, a TJ Perenara brace and two penalties from Beauden Barrett proved too much for the visitors, who scored through Brad Weber, Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie, Lachlan Boshier as well as a McKenzie penalty.
The Chiefs dominated the opening 20 minutes of both halves but were thwarted by the Hurricanes’ line speed and discipline on defence, while the hosts were the more clinical of the sides on the day.
The Hurricanes will now meet the winner of the Crusaders versus Sharks clash, taking place on Saturday.
The home side took the lead within the opening minute when McKenzie tried to get a static Chiefs backline going with a long, looping pass which Savea clutched out the air ahead of opposite number Shaun Stevenson before racing in under the posts to give the home side a dream start.
However, the visitors hit back in the seventh minute. Lienert-Brown got the offload away for Nathan Harris, who made the mini-break and released Weber on his inside for a clear run to the line, capping off a well-worked team try involving superb interplay between backs and forwards.
The Chiefs had an overwhelming majority of the possession and territory in the opening 20 minutes. Credit to the Hurricanes, who defended stubbornly to limit the damage. And having soaked up the pressure, the hosts would the enjoy the better of the second part of the second half and score next in the 33rd minute.
It came after brilliant work from Ngani Laumape to hold up an opposition player five metres from the Chiefs try-line, creating the maul and winning the scrum penalty for his side in a wonderful position. From the resulting set-piece, Perenara got over with a trademark sniping break as the hosts took a 17-10 lead in to the interval.
11 minutes after the half-time break, Charlie Ngatai’s kick held up in the breeze and was pounced upon by the chasing Boshier, who went on a bullocking 40-metre run, shrugging off a couple of defenders, before being halted five metres short. The ball was shifted out to the left where Lienert-Brown had numerous options on the overlap, but finished the job himself, as McKenzie levelled matters at 17-17 after 51 minutes, setting up a tense final 30 minutes.
Just when the Hurricanes needed a response, one of their big players rose to the occasion in the 62nd minute when the talismanic Perenara went over for his brace from first phase with the sniping dart in identical fashion to his first.
Soon after, Solomon Alamailo was penalised for a deliberate knock-down and was lucky to escape the yellow card. However, the hosts would capitalise from the resulting scrum, spreading the ball out to the left wing, where Lam finished an incisive backline move on the overlap for a 32-17 lead
The visitors hit back with two late tries when Alamailo went on a scintillating break and delayed the pass expertly for McKenzie, who ran a great support line to dot down before Boshier powered over after a series of powerful carries from the forwards.
It wasn’t enough to overturn the 15-point deficit though as the Hurricanes won by just the one point – 32-31.
Tries: Savea, Perenara 2, Lam
Cons: B Barrett 2, J Barrett
Pens: B Barrett 2
Tries: Weber, Lienert-Brown, McKenzie, Boshier
Cons: McKenzie 3, Ngatai
Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Jordie Barrett, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Gareth Evans, 6 Brad Shields (c), 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Michael Fatialofa, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Vaea Fifita, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Wes Goosen
Chiefs: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Shaun Stevenson, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Lachlan Boshier, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Mitch Karpik, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Alex Nankivell
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Referees: Nick Briant, Paul Williams
TMO: Glenn Newman