Backs-to-wall Hurricanes too hot for Chiefs
Desperation delivers. There's no other way to explain the Hurricanes' six-tries-to-one 45-8 domination of the Chiefs in Wellington last night.
With their season on the line, the Canes were simply too hot to handle. Almost everything clicked for their talented backline. Not that the forwards were without praise. Victor Vito oozed confidence after his All Blacks recall, Jack Lam continued his rise and Dane Coles was prominent throughout.
The surprisingly comfortable bonus-point win lifted Mark Hammett's men to equal-second in the New Zealand conference with the Highlanders, and only one point behind the Crusaders. Needing to win all three remaining games - against the Blues (away), Crusaders (home) and Chiefs (away) - means no-one will get carried away about the playoffs just yet. But the Canes are very much alive. And in this sort of form can roll anyone.
The only negative came just after halftime when in-form fullback Andre Taylor was stretchered off after rolling his ankle in an awkward tackle.
Otherwise, though, posting their highest total against the defending champions must rate as one of the best in Hammett's four-year reign.
Dave Rennie won't reach for excuses but coming off the bye his side was flat. They were a shadow of the team that dispatched the Blues in such clinical fashion two weeks ago in New Plymouth. A Liam Squire try and lone Gareth Anscombe penalty were their only reward for territorial dominance in the first half and will need a dramatic turnaround before returning to Taranaki to face the Waratahs next week.
The Canes are at their best with ball in hand. That was again true as they reverted to their natural strengths, scoring three tries only they could create in the first quarter. Apart from their body shape, forwards and backs were interchangeable; their offloads and second-phase footy a joy to watch.
It was fitting Coles gave the last pass for Ben Franks to touch down - the front-rowers proving the fat man's track isn't the only route to the line. Julian Savea was a constant powerhouse presence out wide - his pace and strength must have the English quaking in their boots. In combination with Taylor and Cory Jane, the All Blacks wing ran rampant.
Reinstated at second five-eighth, Alapati Leiua also showed his immense value by busting through Charlie Ngatai to set-up the first of Savea's brace.
In contrast to the Canes' counter attack, the Chiefs perused the up-the-guts approach to expose space around the fringes early. Inside balls and offloads were employed to good affect. Prop Pauliasi Manu and wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma changed angles and were hungry for work, leaving big men in their wake.
Uncharacteristic mistakes proved their undoing too often, though. Unforced handling errors and ill discipline - specifically taking players out off the ball - ruined numerous cracks at the Canes' line.
Not even Aaron Cruden's comeback from a broke thumb - having been out for six weeks - for the final half-hour could inspire the visitors.
The victory for the Canes sums up the unpredictable nature of the New Zealand derbies this season. You would have any confidence about writing off only the Blues at this point.
Hammett will hope his men can harness this desperate desire in the defining weeks to come,and Rennie's furrowed brow will hang about until a response is offered.
Hurricanes 45 (Andre Taylor, Ben Franks, Julian Savea, Cory Jane, Jack Lam, Brad Shields tries, Beauden Barrett con 4, pen) Chiefs 8 (Liam Squire tries Gareth Anscombe pen). HT: 21-8