An impactful return from injury by Jordie Barrett has handed the Hurricanes their first win of the Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign as the overcame the Chiefs 25-18 at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton.
The 23-year-old fullback put on a masterclass display both from the boot and with ball in hand, finishing the game with a 10 points and two try assists to spare the blushes of teammate Scott Scrafton.
The towering second rower put his team’s chances of victory in jeopardy late on in the contest after he picked up a both a yellow and red card as well as conceding a penalty try, but the exploits of Barrett were enough to guide the visitors to success.
Starting the fixture with a clear determination to put the Chiefs on the back foot, the Hurricanes’ obvious attacking intent was rewarded within the first five minutes after a ton of space opened out wide from a scrum deep in enemy territory.
Jordie Barrett didn’t need a second invitation to take advantage of the Chiefs’ defensive lapse as he slung a looping pass to Kobus van Wyk, who strolled in untouched on the right wing.
Barrett nearly punished the Chiefs again about 10 minutes later when Damian McKenzie failed to find touch from a clearing kick inside his 22.
Instead, the ball landed right in the arms of the Hurricanes fullback, who launched a mammoth drop goal attempt from 45 metres out, only for it to sail astray to the right of the posts.
A string of disciplinary issues on the Hurricanes’ part eventually handed the Chiefs their first scoring opportunity, with McKenzie making amends for his wayward punt by landing an easy penalty attempt from point blank range.
Ill-discipline proved to be a constant theme throughout the first half, with the stop-start nature of the game restricting both side’s ability to unleash their full attacking potential.
A hefty head clash between Chiefs lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi and Hurricanes flanker Du’Plessis Kirifi only added to the match’s stagnant flow.
Ah Kuoi was worryingly stretchered from the field on a medical cart following a lengthy pause in play, which kick-started an abysmal conclusion to the half for the hosts.
Barrett banged over another short-range penalty after Lachlan Boshier was pinged for a breakdown infringement not long after Ah Kuoi’s injury break, before a Dane Coles intercept in the next sequence of play laid the foundations for a Du’Plessis Kirifi try.
Barrett then flexed his long-distance goal kicking prowess with a thunderous effort from beyond 60 metres on the stroke of half-time to give the Hurricanes a 20-3 lead at the break.
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That would have given the Chiefs coaching staff some ammunition to launch a spray in the sheds, with assistant coach Neil Barnes using expletives to express his dismay at his side’s lacklustre efforts during a half-time interview.
The two-time Super Rugby champions must have taken their boss’ words of warning on board, as they hammered the opposition defence inside the first 15 minutes of the second half.
The Hurricanes struggled with the inspired fightback, with McKenzie slotting a penalty from one infringement before Scrafton was sent to the sin bin for his team’s severe lack of discipline.
Despite that, the Chiefs couldn’t capitalise on their one-man advantage, with some stern Hurricanes defence reaping some hard-earned reward when they were given a penalty as a result of a Sam Cane shoulder charge on TJ Perenara.
The All Blacks skipper was lucky not to be yellow carded himself for that indiscretion, but karma came back to bite the Chiefs as Ardie Savea and Jamie Booth combined off the back of the scrum to splinter the defensive line inside the opposition half.
Some silky distribution between the replacement halfback, Perenara and Barrett was enough to see Van Wyk through for his second try of the game to push the score out to 25-6.
The Chiefs hit back almost immediately, though, with a break down the right-hand flank by Solomon Alaimalo putting the away side under immense pressure.
Another penalty just five metres from the Hurricanes’ tryline was quickly taken by Damian McKenzie, who threw his body at the line but was held up over the line in a last-ditch effort from Scrafton.
However, a penalty try was called as the returning second rower was offside and took the Chiefs fullback in a high tackle, leading to a second yellow card, meaning he became the first player in Super Rugby Aotearoa to earn a 20-minute red card.
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That appeared to light a spark in the Chiefs’ belly that had been vacant throughout the entirety of the match, as they began to play with the belief that they could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
As such, their attack was direct and intense as the clock ticked closer to the full-time siren, with replacement halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi injecting plenty of impetus from off the bench.
His energetic involvement eventually paid dividends, with a helter-skelter period of play enough to stretch the under-manned Hurricanes defence to the point that Boshier raced in for a try with less than three minutes to play.
That was as close as the Chiefs got to pulling off a miracle comeback, though, as the Hurricanes closed the game off expertly to register their first win of the abbreviated campaign.
The result leaves the winless Chiefs in a deep hole heading into their bye week, which should provide some much-needed time off to bring some clarity and refreshment to Warren Gatland’s struggling side.
As for the Hurricanes, they now sit in fourth spot and could overtake the Highlanders, who they trail by one point, when the two sides face off at Sky Stadium in Wellington next Sunday.
Hurricanes 25 (Tries to Kobus van Wyk (2), Du’Plessis Kirifi; 2 conversions and 2 penalties to Jordie Barrett; yellow card and red card to Scott Scrafton)
Chiefs 18 (Try to Lachlan Boshier, penalty try; 2 penalties to Damian McKenzie)
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