Chiefs too strong for Hurricanes in Hamilton
Admirably the Hurricanes went down in a blaze of glory, but the nature of their 34-22 loss to the Chiefs does not change its effect on either side's Super Rugby season.
The defending champion Chiefs are all but the New Zealand Conference champions and will almost certainly return to Hamilton for the playoffs in three weeks time.
The Crusaders can mathematically tie on points, but only if the Chiefs do not secure another point and even then it would be down to differential.
Effort has never been the problem and it was there in spades tonight at Waikato Stadium where they threw the kitchen sink at keeping their season alive.
The little things continue to prevent coach Mark Hammett's side from fulfilling their potential and first five eighth Beauden Barrett will rue a missed penalty just after halftime.
Barrett was brilliant through the first 40 minutes, but his shanked kick was costly. Instead of going up 18-15 the Hurricanes let the Chiefs off the hook.
Minutes later Barret thew an intercept pass and his opposite Aaron Cruden kicked ahead, then nailed a penalty to push the halftime margin out to 20-15.
They were symbolic of the crucial moments the Hurricanes have missed this season and Chiefs have taken and it was not surprise when halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow crossed for the decisive try on 63 minutes.
The Chiefs scrum dominance came through late in this match and it was big prop Ben Tameifuna who bulldozed over with a few minutes remaining to inflate the scoreline and secure the bonus point.
With Cruden pulling the strings and lock Brodie Retallick tireless, it was another illustration of why the Chiefs will push hard for another title.
This was a cracking match in which the Hurricanes played more than their part in the spectacle.
Captain Conrad Smith led from the front and his side can walk away knowing they gave their all and played with the passion and desperation of a team that does not want to be counted among the also rans.
They played to the finish with replacement wing Alapati Leiua adding to TJ Perenara's first half try, but were second all the same.
The Hurricanes lost hooker Dane Coles (calf) in the build up as well as reserve pivot Tusi Pisi (hand), but got a top drawer effort from replacement rake Ash Dixon.
The visitors set a cracking pace with their rushing defence and non-stop attack.
Barrett was in sublime form carrying the confidence of his All Black cameos back into Super Rugby. He timed the ball superbly with his boot and attacked the line at pace.
Perenara epitomised his team's resolve with an act of pure courage in the 21st minute. The halfback was writhing on the ground clutching his leg after opposite Kerr-Barlow's leg accidently swung into his shin.
Perenara then dragged his limp limb 70 metres in defence diving to make a covering tackle before again collapsing to the turf.
Fittingly the No 9 had scored the first try on 15 minutes, driven over by hardworking openside Karl Lowe after lock Jeremy Thrush had controlled a cross kick.
The Chiefs struck back immediately when Craig Clarke stole a Hurricanes' lineout, No 8 Matt vant Leven pouncing on the loose ball to crash over, and then led 17-7 after second five-eighth Bundee Aki ran onto a perfectly weighted Cruden kick through.
Barrett then opened up the Chiefs defence with a spinning winding run before running off a Brad Shields pass to score himself, his late penalty closing the margin to 17-15 at halftime.