Streetwise Chiefs outsmart the Hurricanes
TOBY ROBSON AT WESTPAC STADIUM
Champion sides tend not to miss their cue and so it proved as the Chiefs edged the Hurricanes 17-12 to maintain their place atop Super Rugby's New Zealand Conference.
A quick lineout, a kick to the corner and a charge down proved the difference on a slippery night that saw the Hurricanes leave their run too late, something that may now apply to their faltering Super Rugby campaign.
The Chiefs continue to be a team that simply knows how to win and four Aaron Cruden penalties and Tanerau Latimer's try in the 53rd minute got them across the line for their ninth win of the season.
With All Blacks coaches Steve Hansen and Ian Foster as well as selector Grant Fox in the stands, the Chiefs didn't provide any real standouts, but were the more cohesive team.
The Hurricanes simply didn't look after the ball well enough to make their territory-first game plan work.
A bonus point will not soften the impact of their sixth loss considering their tough run home.
A more clinical effort might have got them home in front of 12,998 fans, but they didn't start playing until the final 20 minutes by which stage they trailed 17-9.
They might wish they had because centre Reynold Lee-Lo looked dangerous when he finally saw the ball and Tusi Pisi and Brad Shields added some punch off the bench.
Coach Mark Hammett probably thought there was still a chance when Chiefs replacement prop Ben Tameifuna was sinbinned in the 70th minute for playing the ball off his feet.
Beauden Barrett knocked over his fourth penalty to close to 17-12, but his side couldn't land the final blow and when wing Alapati Leiua spilt a simple pass out wide it summed up the mood of a season that's not quite hitting its straps.
It was unfortunate for the Hurrianes who had patiently played territory all night only for their plan to come undone in one crucial play.
The one time Andre Taylor decided to chance his arm on the counter attack it blew up in the Hurricanes' face.
Chiefs fullback Robbie Robinson drilled the quick lineout ball to the corner and from the lineout halfback TJ Perenara's kick was charged down and regathered by opposite Tawera Kerr-Barlow who popped the final pass to the ever present Latimer.
Perenara's huge early hit on Robinson signaled the home side's intent and later wing Lelia Masaga got a similarly bruising reception from prop Ben May.
But the Hurricanes simply didn't offer enough on attack to win the match.
The conditions dictated the opening quarter with the Hurricanes intent on playing a territorial game as they had during the first half of their win against the Cheetahs a week prior.
Crucially the Hurricanes didn't kick the ball out and with only one lineout throw, to the home side's eleven, during the first half the Chiefs could not establish an attacking platform.
It meant the visitor's had to be more adventurous on the counter attack and between Robinson, Tikoirotuma and Masaga they got some good gain and a 9-6 lead after a tense opening 20 minutes.
It was going to be a case of who blinks first and that moment almost came on 26 minutes when Chiefs No 8 Matt Vant Leven charged down Barrett's clearing kick.
Only a desperate tackle in the corner from Barrett and lock Jason Eaton saved the day for the Hurricanes.
Barrett tied the scores at 9-all after Liam Messam was penalised for the most innocuous of shoves and the niggle seemed to enliven the Chiefs.
A second try scoring opportunity went begging when a diving Jack Lam pulled Kerr-Barlow down from behind, but Cruden's fourth penalty gave them a 12-9 lead heading into the sheds.
Chiefs 17 (Tanerau Latimer try, Aaron Cruden 4 pens) Hurricanes 12 (Beauden Barrett 4 pens). HT: 9-12 Chiefs
- © Fairfax NZ News
Which two NZ teams look the most likely to make the Super Rugby playoffs?