Super Rugby Aotearoa: Hurricanes keep title hopes alive as Chiefs' winless campaign comes to an end
The Hurricanes have lived to fight another day as they secured a bonus point victory over the Chiefs in Wellington to keep their Super Rugby Aotearoa title aspirations alive.
Led by an impressive Peter Umaga-Jensen from the midfield, the hosts had to weather a first half yellow card to Kobus van Wyk, with Jordie Barrett in danger of following him to the sin bin after flipping Sean Wainui in a tackle early in the second half.
Unlike Van Wyk’s judo flip-like cleanout of Brad Weber, Barrett wasn’t sanctioned when the TMO deemed Wainui to have jumped into contact.
Aside from those disciplinary concerns, the Hurricanes looked in control for the majority of the contest, although the Chiefs were presented with the first opportunity to take the lead.
Kicking from a distance of 45 metres out, Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie was desperately close to strike the crossbar in just the third minute, and the Hurricanes made him pay not long afterwards.
Building nicely from an attacking lineout just three minutes later, the pressure applied by the home side’s ball carriers proved too much for the Chiefs to handle, with a flat pass delivered by TJ Perenara on the opposition try line enough for Umaga-Jensen to cash in on.
Anton Lienert-Brown and Alex Nankivell were no match for the 22-year-old powerhouse, who split the pair through the middle to crash under the posts.
He doubled down on his try-scoring exploits 20 minutes later after putting Wes Goosen into space on the left wing, only to receive a wonderful offload back in-field as the electric winger looked destined for the sideline.
That added salt into the Chiefs’ wounds as just moments beforehand, inspirational skipper Sam Cane had been taken from the field with a worrying head injury after colliding with Jordie Barrett.
Having broken his neck while playing for the All Blacks against South Africa two years ago, there were valid concerns about Cane’s well-being, but the 28-year-old somewhat eased those anxieties when he walked from the field without assistance.
The first few minutes of the second half saw Sean Wainui cross the chalk after being put in acres of space on the left wing from a set move.
Julian Savea savoured his first match back on New Zealand soil for two years and admits he faces a dilemma about which provincial team to represent in this year's Mitre 10 Cup.https://t.co/CD1XTO397r
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That try was cancelled out not long afterwards, though, with Dane Coles finishing off a sweeping Hurricanes counter-attack sparked by TJ Perenara to put Jason Holland’s side within reach of the elusive bonus point zone.
It took just seven more minutes for the Hurricanes to hit that mark when Van Wyk pranced over untouched from a Hurricanes lineout to give his side a 24-13 lead.
The Chiefs’ never-say-die attitude kept them in the hunt for their first win of the campaign, though, and the Hamiltonians made their intentions clear when reserve hooker Bradley Slater bundled over the line from the back of the rolling maul with 15 minutes to play.
That put the Hurricanes under the pump to find one last try to continue to make themselves a nuisance for the league-leading Crusaders and Blues, but the fresh legs of the bench were enough to get them over the line.
The energy and sharpness provided by reserve halfback Jamie Booth was enough to splinter a stagnant Chiefs defensive line, and some good support by back-up midfielder Billy Proctor enabled the 21-year-old stroll over for his team’s fifth try.
Comparatively, there was little fight left in the legs of the visitors, who were kept on the back foot for the remainder of the contest before the hosts rounded the game out to the cheers of the 21,000-strong home crowd.
The result leaves the Hurricanes just three points adrift from the top-of-the-table Crusaders with one round to play, but the reigning Super Rugby champions can seal the title on Sunday when they host the Highlanders in Christchurch.
As for the Chiefs, this match caps off a disastrous Super Rugby Aotearoa season without a win from eight attempts.
With no match awaiting them in the final round of the league, the Waikato franchise will take some hard lessons with them into the off-season as they look to return to the Super Rugby fold next year under the guidance of temporary boss Clayton McMillan.
Hurricanes 31 (Tries to Peter Umaga-Jensen (2), Dane Coles, Kobus van Wyk, Billy Proctor; 2 conversions to Jordie Barrett; yellow card to Van Wyk)
Chiefs 18 (Tries to Sean Wainui and Bradley Slater; conversion and 2 penalties to Damian McKenzie)
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