WET NIGHT: Hurricanes’ Chris Smylie on the charge against the Chiefs.
They came to see Sonny Bill Williams star and the Chiefs win but instead those who stuck it out in pouring rain at Taupo’s Owen Delany Park tonight had to settle for a soaking and an old-fashioned wet weather arm wrestle and a Hurricanes victory.
The Hurricanes beat the Chiefs 23-19 with a late comeback in the final Super Rugby pre-season trial before the competition starts next weekend.
The visitors scored two tries to one with goalkickers Beauden Barrett (Hurricanes) and Aaron Cruden (Chiefs) impressive with their goal-kicking in the conditions, each kicking five goals from five attempts.
The heavens opened just before kickoff and the downpour continued, accompanied by thunder and lightning, throughout the first half and not surprisingly the scoring was restricted to multiples of three, the Chiefs edging ahead 9-6 right on halftime when first-five Cruden kicked his third penalty goal, this one from out in front of the posts.
Both teams resorted to a mixture of one-off-the-ruck hit-ups and kicking, although to the Chiefs’ credit they did try to counter-attack where possible through their backs and had some strong ball carrying from forwards Fritz Lee, Toby Smith and Sam Cane.
The result was something of a stalemate with the Hurricanes’ scrum looking to have the edge but the Chiefs solid in most other aspects of their game and having the greater scoring opportunities.
The best of those came in the opening six minutes when the Chiefs powered onto attack through the help of a penalty and a free kick and the forwards hammered the Hurricanes’ line with a series of pick-and-go attacks that came agonisingly close to lighting up the drenched Owen Delany Park crowd, which thinned to about 500 in the atrocious conditions.
Eventually the ball was moved wide to Sonny Bill Williams and the crowd excitement quickly turned to groans when he spilt the ball forward in a tackle.
Barrett was the first to get the scoreboard moving with a 32-metre penalty goal in the 11th minute, Cruden responded with one from 45m in the 25th minute and seven minutes later added another from virtually the same spot, quickly followed by Barrett’s leveller from 30m before Cruden had the last say of the half.
The first real breakthrough in the game came inside the first five minutes of the second spell when Chiefs halfback Brendon Leonard ran wide to a yawning blind side off an attacking scrum after a strong opening from the home team’s forwards and took a pass from No8 Fritz Lee to score in the righthand corner.
Cruden again nailed his kick straight down the middle, the conversion making it 16-9 and suddenly the Chiefs had opened up the first significant lead of the game.
But nearly threequarters of the way through the game the rain eased off, the sun started to poke through for a short period and the Hurricanes started playing structured attacking rugby in the Chiefs 22, the result being a try to openside flanker Jack Lam, which Barrett duly converted to close the gap to three points at 16-13.
Back the Chiefs came with some backline counterattacking but it was another Cruden penalty that added to the scoreline to make it 19-13 before a host of changes to both teams and some strong pick and go forward work from the Hurricanes saw the visitors take the lead 20-19 through replacement front rower Tristan Moran, converted by Barrett.
Barrett then added an insurance penalty goal and Chiefs finished strongly on attack but unable to hold onto the ball long enough to get over the line.
Hurricanes 23 (Jack Lam, Tristan Moran tries; Beauden Barrett 2 conversions, 3 penalty goals)
Chiefs 19 (Brendon Leonard try; Aaron Cruden conversion, 4 penalty goals).
Halftime: 9-6 to Chiefs