Whatever happens next, the Hurricanes believe they won more than just the match in rounding out the regular season with a heart-stopping 28-25 win over the Chiefs last night.
The result was as unlikely as the Hurricanes' season, and in front of 23,549 screaming converts coach Mark Hammett's men added another seemingly impossible result to their against-the-odds season.
Hooker Dane Coles' 85th minute try keeps the playoff dream alive till early Sunday morning, by which time other results will have decided their final place on the Super Rugby ladder.
Whatever happens, Hammett will walk away from the 2012 season with a smile.
"Anything can happen and hopefully it does. But we're really proud of the team," he said. "They've never given up. The big goal since our foundation camp was to win respect... I think the boys have done the job in that respect."
Last night's win seemed impossible 20 minutes earlier when Aaron Cruden had intercepted a Beauden Barrett pass to race away for a try and a 22-18 lead.
Hammett believed that had been the turning point, but he and his side never gave up on one more miracle in a miraculous season.
Two earlier tries to Hurricanes wing Julian Savea had highlighted their attacking threat and Conrad Smith's simply doesn't know how to lie down.
They threw everything at the final minutes and came away with the result.
In the end it hung on an agonising wait after referee Jonathan Kaplan referred to the video referee Mike Fraser who, after countless replays, brought the house down by ruling a try.
It will be talked about at length with replays inconclusive to many, but patrons hugged each other and the Hurricanes players embraced as Hammett's fairy tale season took another twist.
The win lifts the Hurricanes to fourth place. They will wait till early Sunday morning before they know their fate, but will not finish lower than eighth.
Neither team left fully satisfied with the Chiefs failing to get the win that would have helped them secure top spot on the Super Rugby ladder, and the Hurricanes one try short of the four try bonus.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said his side was "poor" and "too predictable" in their attack and had bombed too many line breaks after an early try to halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Both sides ran themselves to a standstill in the first half before settling into a gripping struggle with the Hurricanes up 18-15 at the break.
Barrett banged over a penalty in the 62nd minute to close the gap to 22-21 as both kickers struggled with the conditions, but Cruden seemed to have had the final say when he made it 25-21.
The Hurricanes had made a sloppy start, a poor pass from Andre Taylor, a penalty for advancing ahead of the kicker, then a soft try to Kerr-Barlow.
It was 3-7 before the home side knew it but they haven't blinked all season and rose to the challenge.
The Chiefs played the opening half through the middle of the ruck and Kerr-Barlow was sniping at every opportunity and the forwards grinding away.
It was a timely reminder of TJ Perenara's absence, but his replacement Chris Eaton was getting ball on a platter and the pace of the Hurricanes attack was electric.
Savea's remarkable season continued with two tries as the Hurricanes shot out to a 15-7 lead, one a sweeping 80 metre movement and the other the result of quick ruck ball.
Openside Jack Lam cried off with a sternum injury, then May was sinbinned for a dangerous tackle on Sonny Bill Williams that didn't warrant even a penalty.
Whatever the case, it cost the Hurricanes eight points. Ben Tameifuna crashed over just as May was set to return to the field to tie the scores at 15-all.
But the Hurricanes were in their element as the odds stacked against them and got home in the end.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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