Chiefs down Hurricanes to stay in the race
TOBY ROBSON AT WAIKATO STADIUM
The Hurricanes season hangs by a thread.
But more disappointing for coach Mark Hammett will be that possibly the last match of his coaching tenure was a nervous muddle 24-16 loss full of missed opportunity.
He had been looking for a passionate statement that grabbed a Super Rugby playoff spot by the scruff of the neck, but instead an anxious weekend awaits.
The Hurricanes need a bunch of results to fall their way. The odds are not impossible, but they are long at best.
If this was Hammett's finale, it was not how he would have wanted his tenure to finish.
He struck a frustrated figure post match. Referee Nick Briant was the first cab off the what went wrong rank.
Hammett chose his words carefully, but was clearly unimpressed, claiming the Chiefs did not roll away or release the tackled player in defence.
Next he noted the Hurricanes' short turnaround and the absence of four injured All Black or Samoan test players.
Eventually Hammett said what he really felt. That his side were "unlikely" to make the playoffs after being "outplayed" by a better team on the night.
They had failed to capitalise on a strong set piece and their attack lacked punch.
Put simply the Hurricanes were a different team this season with Samoan international Alapati Leiua at second five-eighth.
Without him they could not get the vital go forward to give first five eighth Beauden Barrett front foot ball to feed to the likes of wing Julian Savea.
The Chiefs knew it and their clever tactics, legal or otherwise, ground the Hurricanes' attack to a halt.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie summed things up perfectly.
"We probably should have won by more and potentially could have got four tries," he said without even a tinge of arrogance.
"We thought we could go through the middle a bit. It took us a while to get going, but I thought it paid dividends for us. They tended to spread in defence, so we set up a few mini mauls in general play and got a bit of reward from that."
With lock Brodie Retallick a colossus up front and No 8 Liam Squire a first half star, the Chiefs backs had the ball their opposites could only dream of.
First five eighth Aaron Cruden played territory until his side were in front and then used his dancing feet and those of the men around him to capitalise on the ground.
At least the scrum was dominant.
That's about all the Hurricanes could take form a match which they never really gave themselves a chance of winning.
A nervous first 40 minutes dug the initial hole and Cruden gladly filled it in with four penalties, tries to prop Jamie Mackintosh and Retallick completing the job in front of 15,843 fans.
The Hurricanes had just a solitary second half try to Hadleigh Parkes on the night. It wasn't for lack of effort, but the necessary polish wasn't there.
There were spilled the kick offs, dropped high balls, and uncertain kicks.
A lack of physicality in the midfield hurt the visitor's from the moment centre Tim Bateman knocked on with an early touch.
They seemed uncertain of exactly how to approach their task. All out attack wasn't in the plan with wing Julian Savea's two touches in the first half including an intercept of a Chiefs pass.
That was never going to be enough.
With 20 minutes to go and down 19-9 the Hurricanes needed someone to reach into their bag of tricks and produce a moment that would save their flagging fortunes.
Instead, Cruden's break saw Retallick crash over to make it 24-9 and effectively sealed the result.
Openside Ardie Savea tried his best, while Parkes battled gamely and props Jeffery Toomaga-Allen and Ben Franks produced at scrum time, but they couldn't stop what felt, in the end, slightly inevitable.
The Chiefs will head to Eden Park with hope in their heart, while the Hurricanes will pray results go their way.
Chiefs 24 (Jamie Mackintosh, Brodie Retallick tries, Aaron Cruden 4 pen, con) Hurricanes 16 (Hadleigh Parkes try, Beauden Barrett 3 pen, con). HT: 16-6.
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