Hurricanes beat Chiefs 22-18 in Super Rugby
The Wellington-based Hurricanes ensured this season will be their best ever in Super Rugby when they beat the Hamilton-based Chiefs 22-18 to likely clinch first place in the New Zealand conference on Saturday.
The win was the Hurricanes’ 11th in 12 matches, eclipsing the franchise record of 10 wins in a season. It took them 13 points clear of the Chiefs, and on course for a home semifinal.
The overall standings didn’t change, but it was also a good round for Australia’s teams and a grim one for South Africa’s, of which all four in action were beaten.
The ACT Brumbies remained the Australian conference leader by outclassing the Lions 30-20 in Johannesburg, and the defending champion New South Wales Waratahs stayed on their tail with a 33-18 home win over the Durban, South Africa-based Sharks.
The Bulls, despite losing to the lowly Blues in Auckland on Friday, stayed on top in South Africa thanks to the second-place Stormers enjoying a bye, and the third-place Lions failing to find their renowned second-half wind.
The Cheetahs added to South African misery in the 14th round by being blown away 45-24 by New Zealand visitors the Highlanders, who stayed in a top-six playoff position.
The Hurricanes-Chiefs match, pitting the highest points-holders in the competition, lived up to expectations.
The Chiefs, already depleted by injuries, lost two locks to injuries, and a player to the sin-bin during the second half. Despite those disadvantages, they hit back with a 74th-minute try by Sam Cane which cut the Hurricanes’ lead to four points, and clinched a consolation bonus point.
They then seemed to have stolen the match with a try to replacement scrumhalf Augustine Pulu two minutes from time, but the video referee determined there was a knock-on in an earlier ruck. The Hurricanes shoved the Chiefs off scrum ball to cap the win.
“It was probably the first time we’ve been put under that sort of pressure in the first 40 minutes, and it took us a little while to react,” Hurricanes stand-in captain Jeremy Thrush said. “That was a good test for us to see what it feels like to be in the playoffs. The Chiefs are a never-say-die team, and that’s why they’ve won two championships.”
The Chiefs were 13-10 in front at the interval, but center Ma’a Nonu pulled off a remarkable intercept for his second try — his 50th in Super Rugby and record for an active player — to give the Hurricanes breathing room. The teams meet again in the final round in a month.
In Johannesburg, ACT built a 22-6 halftime lead with relentless, straight running against the Lions. The Lions, who trailed at halftime in eight of their previous nine matches and won six, came back despite themselves to trail by nine, until Brumbies fullback Jesse Mogg found an unmarked Joe Tomane on the left wing.
The Waratahs were flattered to beat the Sharks by 15. The Sharks deserved to lose their sixth straight match, their worst streak in 15 years, but they had a try disallowed, and Waratahs flyhalf Bernard Foley capped off a productive night with a clinching try in the final minute from a Sharks fumble.
The Highlanders had lost three straight in South Africa, but ended that in style with a seven-try mauling of the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Rugby league convert Ryan Tongia, on debut, scored the first two tries, from a crosskick by Lima Sopoaga, then a chip and regather.
An offload by falling No. 8 Nasi Manu set up the third try, and the Highlanders had the bonus-point try within 30 minutes thanks to a grubber from Ben Smith, who would score a try in the second half from his chip kick.